NYC Court Kills One “Cookie” Suit Against DoubleClick

DoubleClick Thursday won a victory in its ongoing legal entanglements, with one of its class-action suits being thrown out in a New York City courtroom.

The case against Alley-based DoubleClick, 00 Civ. 0641, alleged that the firm’s use of “cookies” — small text files that anonymously records which sites a user visits — violates state and federal laws. The plaintiffs in the class action suit — 13 consumers in the New York area — alleged the company violated the Wiretap Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

But U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald dismissed the year-old suit, writing that DoubleClick’s practices weren’t illegal, but instead, were part of a publicly available and well-known business plan for commercial gain.

For those reasons, Judge Buchwald wrote in a 71-page opinion that the plaintiffs failed to provide evidence that DoubleClick violated any of the three federal laws.

Indeed, Buchwald ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that DoubleClick gained unauthorized access to their computers. She also said that DoubleClick’s Web publishers were not violating visitors’ rights by passing on their information to the firm — since the exchange of information was overtly authorized by the publishers themselves, and tacitly by users’ decision to visit those sites.

Additionally, Buchwald said the intent of the three Acts were not to prohibit practices like DoubleClick’s use of cookies.

“This groundbreaking decision marks the first time a court has interpreted these statutes in the context of Internet advertising,” said Elizabeth Wang, said DoubleClick vice president and general counsel, in a statement reiterated by Buchwald.

The online ad serving firm isn’t out of the woods yet, however — it still faces similar suits in Texas and California. Nevertheless, it’s good news in a time when DoubleClick could use it. The news comes following admitted hacker break-ins earlier this week, raising questions about the ad network’s security practices among privacy advocates.

It also comes as the online ad industry is looking for credibility in the eyes of traditional advertisers — and many insiders feel that the ad networks’ ability to track post-click user activities, using cookies, is one of the industry’s most important offerings.

DoubleClick was represented by Morrison & Foerster, while the firms Millberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach and Bernstein, Litowitz, Berger & Grossmann represented the plaintiffs. Attorneys at Morrison & Foerster referred all questions to DoubleClick.

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