Jeannette minor files lawsuit against use of computer cookies

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A Jeannette child filed a lawsuit Friday, seeking class action status and accusing Viacom Inc. and Google Inc. of improperly using tiny computer programs called cookies to track the online activity of children.

Identified only as K.T., the girl is under 13 years old and has registered to use the websites nick.com and nickjr.com, owned by Viacom and associated with the Nickelodeon television franchise, the complaint filed in U.S. District Court said. By registering with the websites, K.T. accepted the placement on the family's home computer of cookies -- scripts that communicate information on Internet use to Viacom and Google, it said.

The companies, the lawsuit said, "conspired to use and profit from said information for targeted marketing directed at" K.T. and other children.

"Only Santa should spy on little boys and girls," said attorney Douglas A. Campbell, who filed the lawsuit on K.T.'s behalf. He called the tracking of children's online activity "pernicious."

Mr. Campbell said similar lawsuits have been filed in other states. "This is coming to a head."

He seeks to represent all children under age 13, statewide, who visited the two websites and as a result had cookies inserted onto their computers.

Officials for Viacom could not be reached for comment late Friday. A Google spokesman declined comment.

The lawsuit said that the marketing violates provisions of anti-wiretapping laws and the Video Privacy Protection Actand intrudes upon children's seclusion while unjustly enriching the companies. The Video Privacy Protection Act, said Mr. Campbell, bars the use of such techniques with consumers under age 13, but it does not similarly protect older children and adults.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration that the companies have violated the act, plus unspecified damages.

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Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1542 or Twitter @richelord.


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