A group of consumers are urging a federal court to preliminary approve a $5.5 million settlement that would resolve allegations Google circumvented plaintiffs’ web browsers and defeated the default cookie settings in violations of federal and state laws.
The consolidated litigation consists of 24 lawsuits, initially filed in Dec. 2012 all accusing Google, and other companies including Vibrant Media and PointRoll Inc., of using code to bypass default privacy settings for Safari and Internet Explorer.
Specifically, the plaintiffs allege that Google’s secret and unconsented use of tracking cookies knowingly intercepted and gained access to plaintiffs’ Internet communications.
A Delaware federal judge dismissed the case in Oct. 2013 after finding the plaintiffs had not alleged an injury-in-fact from the advertisers’ use of tracking cookies.
However, plaintiffs won a partial reinstatement in 2014 after appealing the case to the Third Circuit Appeals Court claiming that Google’s cookie tracking practices could be construed as deceptive.
In June, the parties announced they had reached a settlement following four months of arms-length negotiations.
“The Settlement is fair, reasonable and adequate, and should be preliminarly approved,” the plaintiffs’ 26-page motion states.
Under the terms of the proposed settlement, Google will provide certain assurances that it has implemented remediated systems configured to instruct Safari browsers to expire any cookie placed from their advertising service domain by Google on Safari browsers through Feb. 15, 2012.
According to court documents, Google will set up an interest-bearing settlement fund in the amount of $5.5 million.
These funds, including any accrued interest and less expenses for settlement administration costs, attorneys’ fees, and incentive awards, will be paid to six cy pres recipients.
A cy pres doctrine is a practical method that allows settlement funds to be distributed to a nonprofit charitable organization to support work that indirectly benefits the class and advances the public interest.
“The proposed recipients are recognized leaders in the fields of online privacy, safety, and/or advocacy and must agree to devote the funds to promote public awareness and education and/or support research, development, and initiatives related to the security and/or privacy of Internet browsers,” the filing states.
The list of proposed cy pres fund recipients agreed to by the Class and Google include:
Berkeley Center for Law & Technology
Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
Center for Democracy & Technology (Privacy and Data Project)
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Center for Internet & Society at Stanford University (Consumer Privacy Project)
The parties agreed that based on the size of the Class in this case, which is estimated to be millions of individuals, distribution of the settlement funds to the six cy pres recipients is the most efficient and best use of the settlement proceeds.
Additionally, Google has agreed to pay all reasonable settlement administration expenses up to $500,000 to be paid from the settlement fund, attorneys’ fees and costs not to exceed $2.5 million, and incentive awards of $1,000 to each of the three Class Representatives.
The plaintiffs are also seeking to certify a settlement Class consisting of all persons in the United States who used the Apple Safari or Microsoft Internet Explorer web browsers and who visited a website from which Doubleclick.net (Google’s advertising serving service) cookies were placed by the means alleged in the complaint.
Google has already paid $22.5 million to settle related claims brought by the Federal Trade Commission and an additional $17 million for related claims asserted by various state attorneys general.
The Delaware Federal Court Judge presiding over the Google Web User Tracking litigation will need to approve the terms of the settlement before it can be finalized.
The plaintiffs are represented by Brian R. Strange of Strange & Butler LLP; James P. Frickleton, Mary D. Winter and Edward D. Robertson Jr. of Bartimus Frickleton & Robertson PC; Joseph Malley of the Law Office of Joseph H. Malley; and Stephen G. Grygiel of Silverman Thompson Slutkin White.