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Man Suing Google over Google’s Google Toolbar

Almost a year ago Harvard professor Sean Silverthorne demonstrated that under certain circumstances the Google Toolbar when running on IE8 would not stop reporting users’ paths through the web even when users’ attempted to disable the toolbar. The bug, if you believe it wasn’t a conspiracy and can call it a bug, only affected IE8, not IE7, Firefox or Chrome, not even Lynx.

From the professor’s blog, what he had characterized as being an acceptable solution (at the time of issuing his expose):

What Google Should Do

Google’s first step is simple: Fix the Toolbar so that X and Manage Add-Ons in fact do what they promise. When a user disables Google Toolbar, all Enhanced Features transmissions need to stop, immediately and without exception. This change must be deployed to all Google Toolbar users straightaway.

Google also needs to clean up the results of its nonconsensual data collection. In particular, Google has collected browsing data from users who specifically declined to allow such data to be collected. In some instances this data may be private, sensitive, or embarrassing: Savvy users would naturally choose to disable Google Toolbar before their most sensitive searches. Google ordinarily doesn’t let users delete their records as stored on Google servers. But these records never should have been sent to Google in the first place. So Google should find a way to let concerned users request that Google fully and irreversibly delete their entire Toolbar histories.

Even when Google fixes these nonconsensual transmissions, larger problems remain. The current Toolbar installation sequence suffers inconsistent statements of privacy consequences, with poor presentation of the full Toolbar Privacy Statement. Toolbar adds a button to users’ Taskbar unrequested. And as my videos show, once Google puts its code on a user’s computer, there’s nothing to stop Google from tracking users even after users specifically decline. I’ve run Google Toolbar for nearly a decade, but this week I uninstalled Google Toolbar from all my PCs. I encourage others to do the same.

Fair enough, Professor. Google quickly acknowledged the problem, said they’d fix it and summarily fixed it, end of story – almost. Fast forward from January to November 5th, aspiring frivolous litigator Jason Weber dug up the professor’s research, got in touch with New York lawfirm KamberLaw to file a class action suit against Google and their toolbar for five counts (this is federal, by the way) including alleging that Google violated the Electoronic Communications Privacy Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Violations of the Consumer Legal Remedies Act and Unjust Enrichment.

In a formal complaint stuffed with the professor’s discoveries and screen shots of Google Toolbar’s installation software and packet sniffing of web traffic he is asking a US district court of San Jose to award him and anyone who joins his party $100 per person per day of Toolbar torture plus $10,000 per user (a one time thing, the ten grand) plus all legal fees and incidentals incurred, like traveling, hotels, meals, whatever, by Weber and perhaps you if you too want to get in on this – or start your own thing, I don’t know, against Google’s Web Accelerator or their public DNS servers.

Doug Simmons

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