In a win (for now) for companies that engage in website tracking activities, a federal judge in the Northern District of California dismissed a $15 billion class action filed against Facebook over its privacy practices. The plaintiffs in the case may revise their claims, so the debate over user consent and online tracking will likely continue.
Facebook users filed the lawsuit in 2012, accusing the social networking website of secretly tracking their browsing activities, both while they were logged in to Facebook and after they logged off. The 2012 lawsuit — which consolidated similar complaints filed in 10 other states — alleged that, while Facebook users might have agreed to the company’s installation of "cookie" files on their computers to track and transmit their Web browsing activity, they did not consent to any sort of monitoring after logging out of the social network. The plaintiffs accused Facebook of violating multiple state and federal laws, including the Federal Wiretap Act, the Stored Communications Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and California’s Invasion of Privacy Act.
The Court concluded that the users failed to adequately connect the value of the data collected by Facebook to a realistic economic harm or loss, specifically that they "personally lost the opportunity to sell their information or that the value of their information was somehow diminished after it was collected by Facebook." The plaintiffs also failed to state a claim under the Wiretap Act, as the Court found that intercepting the header information of a Webpage, alone, does not constitute interception of "content" as required under federal law. In addition, the Court concluded that the Stored Communications Act does not apply to tracking cookies.
In Re Facebook Internet Tracking Litigation, 5:12-md-02314-EJD, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 145142 (N.D. California).