Oracle is facing a class action lawsuit over what is being described as its “mass surveillance” of the general public.
Oracle is the world’s leading database provider and a popular cloud provider. The company is accused (PDF) of using its position and platforms to collect real-time data on hundreds of millions of users and selling it. The lawsuit alleges the data is being collected on the general public, including individuals who have no direct relationship with Oracle nor any ability to consent or object to the data collection.
This complaint sets forth how the regularly conducted business practices of defendant Oracle America, Inc. (“Oracle”) amount to a deliberate and purposeful surveillance of the general population via their digital and online existence. In the course of functioning as a worldwide data broker, Oracle has created a network that tracks in real-time and records indefinitely the personal information of hundreds of millions of people. Oracle sells this detailed personal information to third parties, either directly, or through its “ID Graph” and other related products and services derived from this data. The proposed Classes herein lack a direct relationship with Oracle and have no reasonable or practical basis upon which they could legally consent to Oracle’s surveillance.
The plaintiffs consist of Dr. Johnny Ryan, a Senior Fellow at the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, and a Senior Fellow at the Open Markets Institute; Dr. Jennifer Golbeck, an associate professor at the University of Maryland in College Park and Director of the Social Intelligence Lab; and Michael Katz-Lacabe, a privacy rights activist.
The plaintiffs make the case that company founder Larry Ellison set out to establish Oracle as a surveillance powerhouse.
According to Ellison, the purpose of Oracle ID Graph is to predict and influence the future behavior of billions of people. He explained Oracle could achieve this goal by looking at social activity and locations in real time, including “micro location[s].” For example, Ellison has represented that companies will be able to know how much time someone spends in a specific aisle of a specific store and what is in the aisle of the store. “By collecting this data and marrying it to things like micro location information, Internet users’ search histories, websites visits and product comparisons along with their demographic data, and past purchase data, Oracle will be able to predict purchase intent better than anyone.”
It’s unclear how successful the lawsuit will be. The US notoriously has no comprehensive privacy legislation, making any such lawsuit an uphill battle. At the same time, the lawsuit was filed in California, one of the few states in the US that does have privacy legislation.
If the plaintiffs are successful, it could have profound repercussions for the US data broker industry, an industry that is already under scrutiny from privacy-minded lawmakers.