Google Must Face Privacy Lawsuit for Tracking Children Without Parental Consent: Appeals Court
Google Must Face Privacy Lawsuit for Tracking Children Without Parental Consent: Appeals Court

By Naveen Athrappully

Google is set to face a class action lawsuit that accuses the tech behemoth of collecting information and tracking children’s behavior online without consent, according to the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The lawsuit was filed in 2019 by children, through their parents, against Google, YouTube as well as other firms with channels on the video streaming platform like Cartoon Network, Hasbro, DreamWorks Animation, and Mattel Inc. The companies are blamed for running targeted ads on children based on Google’s “persistent identifiers.” The decision comes a year after another court had dismissed the suit.

These identifiers refer to unique IMEI numbers of a device or the IP address that allows Google to track the behavior of a user over as much as 80 percent of the internet, thereby enabling the creation of profiles used in targeted advertising.

By tracking the online behavior of children without the consent of parents, Google and other firms are said to have violated the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and other similar state laws.

In July 2021, U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman in San Francisco dismissed the lawsuit on the argument that federal law preempted the plaintiffs’ claims under Colorado, New Jersey, Indiana, Massachusetts, California, and Tennessee law. On Wednesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle reversed the July judgment.

Reversing the Decision

The Court of Appeals noted that Congress had not intended to pre-empt state law-based privacy claims when passing COPPA.

COPPA gives the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the power to regulate how websites collect personal information from citizens below 13 years of age.

Plaintiffs in the case are seeking injunctive relief and damages under state law, and not under federal statute. The court panel reversed the July 2021 judgment 3–0, finding that state laws that supplement the regulations of COPPA are not precluded by federal law.

“Since the bar on ‘inconsistent’ state laws implicitly preserves ‘consistent’ state substantive laws, it would be nonsensical to assume Congress intended to simultaneously preclude all state remedies for violations of those laws,” Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote for the court.

The court remanded the lawsuit back to the district court. Back in 2019, Google-owned YouTube shelled out $170 million in fines in a settlement with the FTC and New York Attorney General Letitia James on allegations that it violated COPPA by tracking kids below the age of 13 for targeted ads.

The Epoch Times has reached out to Google for comment.

Violating Privacy

Google was hit earlier with multiple privacy claims. In November, Google agreed to a privacy settlement worth $391 million after 40 states accused the company of tracking the location of users without their consent. By knowing a user’s location, advertisers will be able to better target them.

“For years Google has prioritized profit over its users’ privacy. It has been crafty and deceptive,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who led the case, according to the BBC.

“Consumers thought they had turned off their location-tracking features on Google—but the company continued to secretly record their movements and use that information for advertisers.”

Google has also faced heat in Europe over privacy protection. In June, the European Consumer Organization BEUC blamed Google for using “deceptive design, unclear language, and misleading choices” to mine as much data from users as possible, according to DW.

Consumer groups in Greece, Slovenia, Norway, France, and the Czech Republic filed grievances with their data protection agencies, complaining against Google’s practices.

In Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands, consumer groups have alerted regulators to the company’s activities.

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