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Google to Pay $23 Million in Search Privacy Deal With Users (1)

Jan. 5, 2023, 4:43 PMUpdated: Jan. 5, 2023, 8:49 PM

Alphabet Inc.'s Google agreed to pay $23 million to resolve a long-running lawsuit brought by consumers who claimed its search engine shared their queries with advertisers or other third parties without their permission.

The proposed settlement also requires Google to provide added disclosures to consumers about the sharing of search terms.

The deal, which needs court approval, would bring an end to a privacy-focused consumer class action in California that has wound its way through federal courts over the past 12 years.

Consumers claimed that when a Google user clicked on a link in search results, the site shared the search terms entered with third parties, potentially revealing personal information about the searcher. Advertisers pay Google to see what search terms led consumers to a particular page, according to the suit.

The suit alleged that Google’s data-sharing violated both the Stored Communications Act, a federal law that governs access to records held by internet service providers, and state laws in California.

Google didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the settlement.

The company agreed to settle the case for $8.5 million in 2013, but the deal was scrapped in light of the US Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo Inc. v. Robins concerning what kind of harms consumers must demonstrate to have legal standing to sue.

Google argued during the search terms case that consumers couldn’t claim their privacy was invaded if searches aren’t linked to an individual’s identity.

The consumers that sued Google are represented by law firms including Nassiri & Jung LLP, KamberLaw LLC, and Progressive Law Group LLC. Google is represented by Mayer Brown LLP and O’Melveny Myers LLP.

The case is In re Google Referrer Header Privacy Litig., N.D. Cal., No. 5:10-cv-4809, settlement proposed 1/4/23.

(Updates with added context from suit)

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Vittorio in Washington at avittorio@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tonia Moore at tmoore@bloombergindustry.com; Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com