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MONTH-IN-BRIEF (Apr 2019)

Data Privacy

Federal Court in South Carolina Dismisses COPPA Suit Against Google Entities

By Sara Beth A.R. Kohut, Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, LLP

A federal court in South Carolina recently dismissed a proposed class action against Google, LLC, Youtube, LLC, and their parent company Alphabet, Inc., for alleged violations of the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). In Manigault-Johnson v. Google, LLC, C.A. No. 2:18-cv-1032-BHH (D. S.C. Mar. 31, 2019), a proposed class action brought by South Carolinians alleged that the defendants violated COPPA and other laws by improperly collecting the personal identifying information of children who viewed videos on smart phone apps and websites, and then selling that information for advertising purposes.

Among other reasons for dismissal, the District Court found that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they alleged violation of the California state constitutional right to privacy, but the class named no plaintiff who was a California resident with standing to raise the claim. The court also questioned whether the collection of data from persons who voluntarily used the defendants’ platforms could sufficiently state a claim for intrusion upon seclusion. Although the court did not reach whether COPPA preempted the state law claims, it described the complaint as an apparent attempt to use state law to privately sue under COPPA, the enforcement of which is exclusively reserved to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general. 

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