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A few years ago, Internet privacy lawsuits were getting filed left and right in courts, most of them seeking to become class action cases. That stream appears to have dried up, according to a report in >The Recorder, a San Francisco legal newspaper.
The newspaper measured the trend by counting privacy lawsuits filed in the Northern District of California, where either Apple, Google, or Facebook was named as a defendant (graph above.) It found 29 such federal lawsuits were filed in 2010, 20 in 2011, and 30 in 2013. But in 2014, only four lawsuits were filed. In 2015, only one privacy lawsuit has been filed so far (against Facebook).
"There have been few big pay days and some signs that mainstream plaintiffs firms are losing interest," writes reporter Ross Todd.
Some of those few pay days: Facebook wrote a check for $20 million to settle a case over its "sponsored stories," which used users' images without their permission. The plaintiffs' lawyers received about $4.7 million of that. comScore paid $14 million in a case where plaintiffs claimed they were tricked by comScore into installing analytics software that collected a "terrifying" amount of data. Plaintiffs' lawyers were awarded $4.7 million in that case as well.
There is no federal privacy law directly addressing the digital realm, and these complaints use old laws to make their case, like the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and Stored Communications Act (1986) as well as the Video Privacy Protection Act (1988). Critics say Congress wasn't even thinking about the Internet when it passed those laws, intended to do things like prevent people from tapping a neighbor's phone or collecting someone's videotape rental history.
Later this year, the Supreme Court will hear Spokeo v. Robins, a case that could change this area of law. The case touches on whether plaintiffs can sue if they can't demonstrate any concrete harms.
An unemployed man sued Spokeo for violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act, because Spokeo said he was wealthy and held a graduate degree. The 9th Circuit granted him standing, but the high court may end up disagreeing with that conclusion.
However Spokeo works out, privacy lawsuits will likely continue in some form—although there may be far fewer than were expected a few years ago. And the cases that do go forward may be of lesser value.
"Data is data, and people are going to continue to extract new uses out of it," Michael Rhodes, who chairs the privacy practice group at Cooley LLP, told The Recorder. "Some segment of the population is going to be tweaked by that."
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Source : https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/06/internet-privacy-lawsuits-once-all-the-rage-fizzle-out/