Google Accused in Suit Again of Violating Privacy Policy

Google Inc. was again accused in a lawsuit of violating users’ privacy by co-mingling data across different products after an earlier complaint in the case was dismissed by a federal judge.

Plaintiffs filed a revised complaint yesterday after U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal in San Jose, California, in December agreed with Google that the plaintiffs failed to claim any injury that could be clearly traced to Google’s actions.

The new complaint focuses on customers who bought Android-powered devices on certain dates, and details a 2010 plan Google called Emerald Sea that involved eliminating barriers between distinct Google services, resulting in the sharing of user data across Google platforms, according to the filing.

In dismissing the suit, Grewal wrote that for the case to proceed, the plaintiffs had to demonstrate how Mountain View, California-based Google’s co-mingling of data deprived them of the “economic value” of their information.

Lawsuits against Internet companies and social networks are multiplying as users become more aware of how much personal information they’re revealing, often without their knowledge. In San Jose, Google, Yahoo! Inc. and LinkedIn Corp. face accusations they’ve intercepted communications for their profit at the expense of users or non-users.

‘Conscious Decision’

According to yesterday’s revised complaint, in May 2010, Google executives “made a conscious decision to withhold from the public information pertaining to the Emerald Sea plan, including Google’s intention to violate all existing privacy policies that placed any limitations on Google’s ability to combine information across platforms by doing precisely that, once Emerald Sea became a reality.”

Before March 1, 2012, Google maintained separate privacy policies for each of its products, each of them confirming that it wouldn’t use personal identification information of its users for other purposes without the user’s consent, according to the suit.

On that date, Google, owner of the largest Internet search engine, announced a new, universal privacy policy explaining that it may combine a user’s personal identification information collected from a Gmail account, for example, with the same type of information collected from the user’s search queries, along with activities on Google Maps and other products, according to the complaint.

Digital Dossier

The new privacy policy, an outgrowth of Emerald Sea, was created to create a “digital dossier exceeding even Facebook’s profiles in granularity of detail to maximize its advertising revenues,” according to the complaint.

The plaintiffs in the case claim the new policy violated previous policies because it no longer permitted users to keep information gathered from one Google product separate from data gathered from another.

Google declined to comment on the revised filing.

The case is In Re Google Inc. Privacy Policy Litigation, 12-01382, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).