US Judge, Telecom News, ET Telecom

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By Jonathan Stempel and Sara Merken

A federal judge said Google faces much of a lawsuit accusing the company of illegally recording and broadcasting private conversations of people who accidentally trigger its voice-activated voice assistant on their smartphones.

In a decision released Thursday night, U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman let plaintiffs in the proposed class action lawsuit pursue allegations that Google and its parent company Alphabet Inc violated California privacy laws, with some claims that they violated federal privacy laws and certain breach of contract claims.

The San Jose, Calif.-Based judge also dismissed the plaintiffs’ California consumer protection claims, but said they could be re-filed.

Google Assistant is designed to respond when mobile device owners use “hot words” such as “Hey Google” or “OK ​​Google”, similar to Siri from Apple Inc.

But the plaintiffs said Google was prohibited from using their conversations for targeted advertising when Google Assistant misread what they said as hot words, known as “false acceptances.”

In a 37-page decision, Freeman said the plaintiffs had shown they used Google Assistant-enabled devices often enough to have a reasonable expectation of privacy when speaking out.

She added that although Google has disclosed in its privacy policy how it collects information for targeted advertising, “it does not sufficiently inform users that it will use recordings made in the absence of manual activation or ‘a hot word’.

In asking for a dismissal, Google said the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that they had suffered harm or that it had violated any contractual guarantees. “Google never promises that the assistant will only activate when complainants want it to,” he said.

The proposed class seeking unspecified damages include U.S. buyers of Google Assistant-enabled devices since May 18, 2016.

Google and its lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday. Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to similar requests.

The case is In re Google Assistant Privacy Litigation, US District Court, Northern District of California, No. 19-04286.


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