updated 07:26 pm EDT, Thu October 10, 2013
Class could not prove that it was damaged by Google's actions
US District Judge Sue Robinson from the Delaware federal court has dismissed a class-action suit against Google, ruling that the class could not prove that Google's cookie deposition policies actually generated any harm. The plaintiffs, users of Apple's Safari and Microsoft's Internet Explorer alleged that Google had bypassed the respective firms' browser settings on cookie usage, and as a result were served targeted advertisements based on ill-gotten data from searches and web browsing habits.
The judge did agree that the companies had bypassed settings within the browser, but also ruled that just because the companies farmed information from the users and sold it, the users couldn't claim that this alone proved there was any damage.
Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer discovered the flaw in the first place, which resulted in a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit. Google paid $22.5 million to settle the suit, and avoided any admission of broken laws. Regarding the ruling, Mayer said that courts are "doing pretzel twists to slot modern electronic privacy issues into antiquated statutory schemes. Congress badly needs to update the nation's privacy laws; we can't leave the courts with so little guidance and expect consistent results."
Upon initial discovery of the issue, Google said that "unlike other major browsers, Apple's Safari browser blocks third-party cookies by default. However, Safari enables many web features for its users that rely on third parties and third-party cookies, such as "Like" buttons. Last year, we began using this functionality to enable features for signed-in Google users on Safari who had opted to see personalized ads and other content--such as the ability to '+1' things that interested them."
Google continued the explanation by claiming that "the Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser. We didn't anticipate that this would happen, and we have now started removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers. It's important to stress that, just as on other browsers, these advertising cookies do not collect personal information."