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Google, Viacom win appeal in lawsuit over children's privacy

In a setback for consumers seeking more privacy online, an appeals court largely sided with Google and Viacom over their use of cookies on a children's website.

In a setback for consumers seeking more online privacy, federal appeals court on Monday threw out a class action lawsuit charging that Viacom and Google unlawfully collected personal information about children under age 13.

The suit specifically took issue with the use of cookies on the site Nick.com to track what webpages children visited and what videos they watched.

The ruling, issued by a three-judge panel on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, rests largely on a ruling the same court issued in Google's favor last year. Based on that case, the appeals court threw out the claims against Viacom and Google under the federal Wiretap Act, the 1986 Stored Communications Act and the California Invasion of Privacy Act.

Additionally, the appeals court on Monday dismissed the argument that Google and Viacom violated the Video Privacy Protection Act. The act, passed by Congress in 1988, bars the disclosure of personally identifying information related to viewers' consumption of video-related services. However, the court ruled, "The law permits plaintiffs to sue only a person who discloses such information, not a person who receives such information."

The court also ruled that digital identifiers like IP addresses, fall outside the Act's protections.

The court did, however, revive one claim specifically against Viacom for allegedly violating state privacy rules by explicitly promising not to collect personal information on Nick.com and then doing so anyway. The website said, "HEY GROWN-UPS: We don't collect ANY personal information about your kids. Which means we couldn't share it even if we wanted to!"

That claim is being sent back to a New Jersey District Court judge for further consideration.

Internet companies, of course, come under regular scrutiny for their monitoring policies, particularly when it comes to children. Back in 2014 after facing criticism, Google put an end to its practice of scanning student data from its Apps for Education users, which it used to serve up targeted ads. Last year, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that Google and other internet companies can disregard Do Not Track requests from consumers.