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Google and Viacom Win Landmark Web Privacy Lawsuit Filed by Parents

Viacom's headquarters in New YorkViacom's headquarters in New York
Viacom's headquarters in New YorkPhotograph by Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Google (GOOG) and Viacom (VIAB) have a right to track the online activity of children who visit their websites, federal judges ruled Monday.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia voted unanimously in favor of the media and tech giants, deciding that neither company broke any laws by planting “cookies” on kids’ computers to gather data used to create targeted ads.

During the case, Jay Barnes, the attorney working on behalf of the parents in the class action suit, claimed Google and Viacom’s actions violated the Video Privacy Act of 1988.

Circuit Court Judge Julio Fuentes wrote in his opinion on the case that the law was only intended to stop the collection of data used to monitor people’s video-watching behavior, not an individual’s internet use.

“Some disclosures predicated on new technology, such as the dissemination of precise GPS coordinates or customer ID numbers, may suffice,” Fuentes wrote. “But others, including the kinds of disclosures described by the plaintiffs here, are simply too far afield from the circumstances that motivated the act’s passage to trigger liability.”

As to whether or not Viacom broke its word to parents not to collect or sell data to advertisers, Fuentes said a reasonable jury could rule the company’s liable if jurors found its alleged privacy intrusion to be “highly offensive to the ordinary reasonable man.”