Google, Viacom Win Dismissal of Lawsuit Over Privacy of Kids

Google Inc. and Viacom Inc. won dismissal of a lawsuit claiming they violated the privacy of children under 13 even as President Barack Obama is pushing for a law that would protect grade-schoolers’ data.

Consumers claimed Viacom compiled unique electronic identifying information about children who used its nick.com website, sending that data to Google. Viacom also put text files known as cookies on computers to gather data it shared with Google, and both companies targeted children for advertising, according to a complaint in federal court in Newark, New Jersey.

U.S. District Judge Stanley Chesler dismissed similar claims in July, giving the consumers another chance to restate their case. Chesler ruled Tuesday in Newark that the plaintiffs failed again to show the conduct was “highly offensive,” as required under the law for the case to proceed.

Chesler said his role “is not to pass on the morality nor the wisdom of companies tracking the anonymous web activities of children for advertising purposes.”

Rather, he said, lawyers for the children failed to show Viacom violated the Video Privacy Protection Act, or that either company broke the New Jersey Computer Related Offenses Act.

‘Legal Authority’

While the lawyers “have identified conduct that may be worthy of further legislative and executive attention, they have not cited any existing legal authority to support their claims,” the judge wrote.

Obama is clashing with companies that make money tracking the intimate details of schoolchildren’s lives, including their grades, health and disciplinary records. In his State of the Union address, the president pushed for a law that would protect student privacy by banning the sale of personal data collected in the classroom to third parties for marketing.

He’s also encouraging companies to sign a voluntary pledge not to do so.

The industry is balking at the law, and some big companies -- including textbook and testing giant Pearson Plc and Google - - have resisted signing the pledge. Obama said last week he would draw attention to companies that refused, and Google recently reversed itself.

A spokesman for Mountain View, California-based Google, operator of the most popular Internet-search engine, didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment on Chesler’s ruling.

‘Very Pleased’

“We are very pleased that the court ruled in our favor,” Jeremy Zweig, a spokesman for New York-based Viacom, said an e-mail.

In a legal filing on Oct. 14 seeking dismissal of the case, Google said that lawyers for the children failed to show that the ordinary use of cookies was “highly offensive.”

“Google uses cookies in online advertising; so does virtually every other online advertiser,” according to the filing. “There is nothing offensive about that common practice, which provides tremendous benefits to consumers and advertisers alike.”

A lawyer for the children, Edward Robertson III, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

The case is In Re Nickelodeon Consumer Privacy Litigation, MDL 2443, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey (Newark).

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