As I recently wrote, technology companies are an increasingly juicy target for class action attorneys. And one of the juciest targets, for obvious reasons, is Google.

The latest legal assault the world's iconic search engine will have to defend against is the charge that its inclusion of search queries in its query strings is a violation of the "the privacy rights of millions of Americans."

That's because those query strings are passed as referrers by browsers, meaning that third parties can track the searches that lead individuals to their websites.

The law firms of Nassiri & Jung LLP and Edelson McGuire LLC, which are also involved in ongoing lawsuits against Facebook and Zynga, believe that the referrer information could be used by third parties to expose the identities of individuals. They are thus asking the court for injunctive releif (eg. the death of Google's query strings). And they're asking, of course, for monetary compensation"for those whose search queries were wrongly shared." This incredulously includes everybody who performed a Google search and clicked on a result from October 25, 2006 through the present day.

The truth, of course, is that Google isn't responsible for transmitting referrer data. Web browsers are. So Google's inclusion of search queries in its query strings doesn't constitute the "[systematic] disclosing [of] user search queries" the plaintiffs say it does. Interestingly, Google for SSL, which provides access to Google search over HTTPS, has the same search queries in its query strings, but they of course aren't shared with third parties when a result is clicked because web browsers don't transmit referrer data over HTTPS.

But technical details don't matter. For class action attorneys, Google is to blame because, well, it has the deepest pockets. Evidencing just how paper thin the case against Google is the attorneys' decision to reference Google's do no evil mantra:

A class action lawsuit filed yesterday challenges Google's alleged practice of illegally sharing the search queries of its users with third-parties. Not only does Google, whose company motto is "Don't be evil," promise in its privacy policy not to do this, but Google has publicly denounced this very practice in the past.

If there's anything that screams "argument that can't stand on its own two feet" when it comes to Google, it's usually (but not always) a reference to Google's "do no evil" mantra. Unfortunately, the real evil -- class action lawsuits that seek little more than a transfer of money from innovative companies to opportunistic attorneys -- is something Google and others in the tech industry had better get used to.

Patricio Robles

Published 27 October, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (3)

Peter Bordes

Peter Bordes, Executive Chairman & Founder at oneQube

Here's the real billion dollar privacy Question: Good or Evil: Have We Shared Too Much w/ Facebook, Google & Apple ?

over 7 years ago

Alec Kinnear

Alec Kinnear, Creative Director at Foliovision

I'm surprised you don't consider this class action a fine example of entrepreneurship, Patricio. Free enterprise thinking at its best here.

over 7 years ago

Paul Gailey

Paul Gailey, Marketing Consultant at Independent

1 year on and this post comes sharply into view with the decision by Google to switch to SSL for logged in users and strip out referrer data for webmasters.

How did this lawsuit conclude?

Are the two events related?

over 6 years ago

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