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Senior writer

Oracle sued over ‘worldwide surveillance machine’ by privacy rights activists

Aug 22, 20222 mins
Data Privacy

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Credit: Marco Piunti / Getty Images

A class action lawsuit filed last week in the Northern District of California accused Oracle of running a “worldwide surveillance machine” and violating the fundamental privacy rights of hundreds of millions of people. The suit alleges that Oracle has violated California’s state constitution by compiling and selling off personal data and makes a common law tort claim for intrusion upon seclusion, along with five further causes of action ranging from state data protection laws to the federal wiretap act.

The plaintiffs in the suit are two privacy rights activists in the U.S. and one in Ireland, all of whom assert that they have data to show that Oracle has created profiles of them without their consent. The amount of relief sought isn’t specified, but the suit – in addition to asking for certification as a class action – demands a halt to Oracle’s data collection activities, as well as restitution of profits made from data collected without consent.

“As a data broker, Oracle effectuates ongoing, comprehensive surveillance of the Plaintiffs and Class members which grievously intrudes upon their privacy,” the complaint states. “Ordinary people, such as the Class members, do not and cannot possess an appropriate level of knowledge about the substantial threats that Oracle’s surveillance poses to their own autonomy.”

Latest in a series of actions against Oracle’s data collection practices

It’s not the first time that Oracle has dealt with legal trouble over its data collection practices, having faced a GDPR-based class action in Holland in 2020. (That case was dismissed earlier this year for a lack of standing, although the plaintiff, an activist group called The Privacy Collective, has said it plans to appeal.) UK courts also shot down a similar lawsuit against Google last year, saying that plaintiffs alleging that Google partially overrode iPhone privacy settings in the Safari browser couldn’t demonstrate that they’d suffered damage or a loss as a result.

Whether the results will be different in U.S. federal court remains to be seen, but privacy experts will doubtless be watching the case closely. EU countries like Holland are subject to the wide-ranging GDPR, while the UK also has the Data Protection Act.  By contrast, the U.S. is still without a national-level data protection rule, so legal action in this area has to take place in different contexts.