Google hit with lawsuit over data-slurping

ROSE POWELL
Last updated 15:01 23/07/2014
Reuters

DATA-SLURPING: YouTube use could be combined with Google Map location data and Google search histories to create data that's very attractive to advertisers.

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Many internet users may not be aware Google slurps up data about how they use apps such as search, maps, Gmail and YouTube to create one major data profile. 

Where you go, what you search, who you email, what you send and which videos you watch online are all collection data points.

All the tech giant needs to tie it together with where you go, what you search, what you talk about and what you like is that you're signed in with a Google account such as a Gmail address, or a Google+ or YouTube account when doing those searches.

To activate these accounts you must agree to Google’s privacy policies,which in March 2012 were updated to allow the company to combine user data from a range of different apps.

The data-scoping and organising is coordinated by machines rather than humans, and the data is sorted into aggregate insights and keyword targeting, both of which are valuable to advisers. It is also used to develop Google's produts.

But the US-based company’s almost unfettered ability to harvest and capitalise on the online activities of their users is set to face a challenge in the Californian courts.

A US federal judge has rejected an application by Google to dismiss a privacy lawsuit by Android phone users.

The Android operating system is a Google product. Google's privacy policy allows the company to access images and text messages on Android phones.

The lawsuit claims the company ‘commingled user data across different products and disclosed that data to advertisers without permission’.

In a 28-page decision, Judge Paul Grewal said his decision that Google must face the breach of contract and fraud claims was a close call.

"Like Rocky rising from Apollo's uppercut in the 14th round, plaintiffs' complaint has sustained much damage but just manages to stand," Grewal said. in a 28-page decision.

The applicants in the court case are claiming Google made the changes to privacy protocols without their consent and with no way to opt out.

Agreeing to revised privacy conditions like those that allowed the commingling is usually as simple as clicking a button on a pop-up. Often users don’t even need to scroll through the long passages of dense explanations.

Applicants will argue the changes risked their privacy by exposing names, locations and contact details as well as a host of other personal information, which increased the risk of harassment and identity theft.

They suggest it was an attempt by the company to compete with the data-collecting clout of Facebook. The social network is rich in user personal data that is conveniently organised into one profile, proving the company ample commercial opportunities, such as targeted advertising.

This is the third time Android users have attempted to sue Google on similar grounds.

Despite the breakthrough for the applicants in the case, Grewel dismissed their claim that they were forced to change phones to a non-Android phone after the changes.

The case only involves American Android smartphone users, who have greater privacy rights than most as five of the amendments to the US Bill of Rights concern privacy.

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Google has faced a range of lawsuits from American citizens and privacy groups over a range of their products.

In October 2013, a judge refused to dismiss a class action against Google for analysing emails and selling the insights to advertisers.

In March 2013, the company admitted they had violated people’s privacy after being sued by 38 states. The New York Times reported Google admitted the cars equipped to take photographs for Google Street view were also scooping up personal data from computers in the homes they drove past.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment for this story.

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