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Privacy Litigation Connected to Coronavirus and Tech Companies

15 May Privacy Litigation Connected to Coronavirus and Tech Companies

While the coronavirus pandemic has already led to a significant amount of business and employment litigation, privacy concerns associated with doing everything online and/or remotely, such as learning, shopping, working, etc. will inevitably give rise to a significant amount of business/internet litigation, as well. A number of new user agreements have been quickly drafted and released to consumers, and at some point, there will be claims that there has been a breach, that security was compromised, and that consumers’ rights were violated, among others. 

In addition, tracking and surveillance is currently being done in some parts of the world in order to strike a balance between getting the economy running again and preventing millions from dying from the virus. However, it is crucial that any COVID-19-based surveillance technology development underway in the US by companies such as Apple and Google is in compliance with US privacy laws.

Prior Tracking a Surveillance Litigation

Even prior to COVID-19, a number of companies were sued over tracking and surveillance technology. For example:

  • Google was sued in connection with allegations of improperly using cookies in connection with its internet tools; even when users adjusted their privacy settings to prevent data tracking
  • A number of social media companies were sued over using interactive buttons on their websites to share information
  • There was a $4 million settlement with a mobile advertising company in connection with impermissibly tracking consumers as part of geolocation technology

Plaintiffs Sue Often and Early

The risk of litigation over tracking technologies is high, and in addition, class action lawsuits over privacy violations concerning these technologies do not have to wait for the actual inappropriate or illegal use of the technology to harm consumers. Instead, they are often brought just based on what the technology could be used to do; in other words, based on the argument that the courts should simply bar a particular type of technology and find liability just based on its potential. While it is difficult to collect damages in court without having actual proof of harm, at the same time, creative theories of alleged harm and compensation due to potential misappropriation of data have also been put forth and, at times, successful.

What Companies Involved in Data Tracking Should be Aware of

Because there is an overall lack of established law in this area, it is one that is ripe for litigation as increased tracking and surveillance technology is developed for COVID-19. Of course, any new technology would also need to comply with existing and new state privacy laws, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act. Some of these laws provide citizens with additional privacy rights and, in doing so, assign additional potential liability to online companies, especially those that are sitting on a significant amount of data and may not have secure systems in place to completely protect it. The best way these companies can protect themselves is by providing as much notice as possible as to what data they are collecting and how it will be used, as well as requiring informed consent.

Contact Our California and New York Business and Internet Litigation Attorneys

Heerde Blum LLP represents businesses and individuals in a number of industries, including internet industries, in both defending and prosecuting complex business litigation claims, including breach of contract and unauthorized use of confidential information and trade secrets. Contact our attorneys today to find out more.