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After years of wrangling, a federal court in California has dismissed a privacy lawsuit against Google. Plaintiffs had alleged a variety of privacy breaches by Google, claiming that the tech Goliath had indiscriminately shared their private information with third parties, in violation of the company's own policies.
The crux of the lawsuit was Google's alleged sharing of names, email addresses and account locations with third parties without users' permission. Plaintiffs are unable to show any injury stemming from that sharing, federal Judge Paul Grewal ruled last Wednesday, dismissing the suit for the fourth, and most likely last, time.
Fourth Time's Not a Charm
The privacy lawsuit began when users objected to revisions in Google's privacy policies. Previously, Google had stored user information separately for each of its products, keeping one's Gmail data apart from one's Google Maps and Youtube accounts, for example. That changed in 2012, when Google moved to integrate its products. Three Google users filed a class action suit, objecting to the sharing of their information.
Prior to last week's ruling, the suit had been dismissed three times, but never with prejudice. By the end, the claims had shifted to allegations that Google shared Android users' information with app developers. Plaintiffs also alleged that Google's activities drained phones of battery power and bandwidth, a claim the federal judge seemed to respond positively to. In the third partial dismissal, Judge Grewal wrote that "like Rocky rising from Apollo's uppercut in the 14th round, Plaintiffs' complaint has sustained much damage but just manages to stand..."
But it didn't stand for long.
As Judge Grewal saw it, the plaintiffs' lawyers blew their case. Dismissing the suit, he writes that the lawyers had abandoned their battery power and bandwidth arguments and "managed something somewhat unusual: they pled themselves out of a case." The final dismissal was with prejudice, bringing to close lengthy litigation which, over three years, still hadn't advanced beyond the initial pleadings.
Privacy Litigation Faces an Uncertain Future
By focusing on just privacy violations, the plaintiffs could not show any personal or economic injury, Judge Grewal ruled. Many similar cases have struggled with demonstrating harm, leading to a marked decline in privacy litigation. In its next term, the Supreme Court will examine a case that focus on whether privacy victims even have standing to sue.
In the meantime, Google isn't entirely free from privacy troubles. While the Android class action as dismissed, another federal judge in California recently refused to toss out a lawsuit making similar privacy claims -- this time focused on Google Wallet.