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August 22, 2022updated 24 Aug 2022 10:01am

Oracle faces lawsuit over “global surveillance”of five billion people

The enterprise IT giant stands accused of "violating the privacy" of billions of internet users.

By Matthew Gooding

Oracle is facing a class action lawsuit in the US over claims that the database giant has unlawfully collected detailed information on five billion people.

The offices of Oracle, which is being taken to court in the US for alleged privacy violations
Oracle is being taken to court in the US for alleged privacy violations (Photo by wellesenterprises/iStock)

In the case, which will be heard in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, plaintiffs Michael Katz-Lacabe, Dr Jennifer Golbeck and Dr Johnny Ryan say they are “acting on behalf of worldwide Internet users who have been subject to Oracle’s privacy violations” and are taking action to stop Oracle’s “global surveillance machine”.

Court documents were filed on Friday. Oracle has over 70 million active users and its most recent full-year revenue was $42.4bn.

Oracle privacy lawsuit: the allegations

With the US having no comprehensive privacy law at federal level, the Oracle lawsuit alleges violations of the Federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Constitution of the State of California, the California Invasion of Privacy Act, competition law, and the common law.

The filing from the complainant’s law firm, Lieff Cabraser, alleges that Oracle collects large amounts from internet users without their consent and uses it to profile these individuals. It does this in various ways, including through the use of its BlueKai tracking cookies.

One of the plaintiffs, Dr Ryan, is part of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL), and in a statement the ICCL said: “Oracle’s dossiers about people include names, home addresses, emails, purchases online and in the real world, physical movements in the real world, income, interests and political views, and a detailed account of online activity: for example, one Oracle database included a record of a German man who used a prepaid debit card to place a €10 bet on an esports betting site.

“Oracle also coordinates a global trade in dossiers about people through the Oracle Data Marketplace.”

Dr Ryan himself added: “Oracle has violated the privacy of billions of people across the globe. This is a Fortune 500 company on a dangerous mission to track where every person in the world goes, and what they do. We are taking this action to stop Oracle’s surveillance machine.”

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Tech Monitor has approached Oracle for comment on the case.

Oracle also faces privacy court cases in Europe

Oracle, along with another enterprise IT giant, Salesforce, is facing similar legal action in Europe over privacy violations under GDPR. Though this case was ruled inadmissible by a judge in the Netherlands last year, The Privacy Collective, the non-profit privacy group behind the action, says it will appeal the decision.

The case has yet to come to court in the UK, but The Privacy Collective’s ability to bring action against Oracle and Salesforce in Britain may be hampered by the decision in a similar case against Google. As reported by Tech Monitor, last year an appeal court judge upheld a decision in favour of Google in the case brought by Richard Lloyd, former executive director of consumer watchdog Which?.

Lloyd had been trying to sue Google for £3bn on behalf of people he claimed were being illegally tracked by the tech giant. But the court asserted that damages cannot be claimed on behalf of all data subjects affected by a breach en masse, saying that they will need to be assessed individually to ascertain their fiscal or emotional damages due to the breach. 

Read more: Oracle buys Cerner as Big Tech looks to the health cloud

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