NEWS11 October 2013

Judge dismisses claims against Google, WPP in Safari cookie workaround case

Legal North America

US — A class-action lawsuit brought against Google, WPP and others, seeking damages from the companies for allegedly circumventing the privacy settings of Safari browser users, has been dismissed by a federal judge.


District Court Judge Sue Robinson said that plaintiffs had failed to show they had been harmed by the alleged actions.

“The court concludes that, while plaintiffs have offered some evidence that the online personal information at issue has some modicum of identifiable value to an individual plaintiff, plaintiffs have not sufficiently alleged that the ability to monetise their [personal information] has been diminished or lost by virtue of Google’s previous collection of it,” wrote Robinson, in a memorandum explaining her decision.

In addition, she wrote: “Even if plaintiffs’ browsers were ‘tricked’ into sending the URLs to Google, the court concludes that Google did not intercept contents as provided for by the Wiretap Act. Given this legal obstacle, defendants’ motions to dismiss are granted.”

The lawsuit stems from a February 2012 report by Stanford University grad student Jonathan Mayer, which showed how the use of certain coding in advertisements could get around Safari’s default block on third-party cookies. Google, Vibrant Media, the Media Innovation Group, PointRoll and WPP were all named in Mayer’s research, and in the subsequent lawsuit, which was first filed in December 2012. Plaintiffs settled with PointRoll on 23 July 2013.

In November 2012, Google agreed to pay $22.5m to settle charges brought by the Federal Trade Commission in connection with Mayer’s research. The FTC alleged that Google “exploited an exception to the browser’s default setting to place a temporary cookie from the DoubleClick domain” which then “opened the door to all cookies from the DoubleClick domain”. DoubleClick is Google’s ad-serving technology platform. Google did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement.