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The Supreme Court said Monday it will decide whether Web sites and other firms that collect personal data can be sued for publishing inaccurate information even if the mistakes don't cause any actual harm.

The case is being watched closely by Google, Facebook and other Internet companies concerned that class-action lawsuits under the Fair Credit Reporting Act could expose them to billions of dollars in damages.

The justices will hear an appeal from Spokeo.com, an Internet search engine that compiles publicly available data on people and lets subscribers view the information, including address, age, marital status and economic health.

Thomas Robins, a Virginia resident, sued Spokeo after viewing a profile on him that was riddled with errors. It incorrectly stated his age, that he had a graduate degree, was employed and married with children. In fact, Robins was unemployed and looking for work. He claims the false information damaged his job prospects.

A federal district court said Robins had no right to sue because he hadn't suffered any actual harm from the errors. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, ruling it was enough that Spokeo had violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

The law was intended to keep credit reporting agencies from compiling inaccurate information that could jeopardize people's ability to get loans or pass job-related background checks.

Robins is pursuing a class action against Spokeo on behalf of thousands of other plaintiffs who also say the company published erroneous information about them. If a class is certified, the company could face damages of $1,000 per violation under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which could add up to billions of dollars.

The Obama administration had urged the court not to take the case, arguing that consumers could sue over misleading data as long as it violated the law — regardless of whether they were harmed.



Switzerland's supreme court has ruled that Google doesn't need to be perfect when it comes to privacy.

The Internet giant has won a partial repeal of a lower court decision that required the company to guarantee absolute anonymity for people pictured in its popular Street View service.

"It must be accepted that up to a maximum of 1 percent of the images uploaded are insufficiently anonymized," the Swiss Federal Tribunal said in a statement Friday.

The court said Google still has to make it easy for people to have their images manually blurred, and must ensure total anonymity in sensitive areas such as schools, hospitals, women's shelters and courts, where skin color and clothing must also be obscured.

The Lausanne-based tribunal additionally upheld part of the Federal Administrative Court's ruling last year that Google must stop publishing pictures of private gardens and courtyards taken with cameras positioned higher than 2 meters.

Google welcomed the supreme court verdict but left open whether it would now withdraw its previous threat to remove all pictures of Switzerland from Street View.



Apple is facing a lawsuit from a Pennsylvania man whose 9-year-old daughter racked up $200 in charges buying "Zombie Toxin" and other game items on her iPod.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status, saying Garen Meguerian of Phoenixville is among many people with bill shock after children went on buying sprees in iPhone, iPad and iPod games. These games are typically free to download, but players can buy items that speed up the game.

An Associated Press story in December highlighted the issue. In many cases, it appeared that children bought items such as "Smurfberries" from "Smurfs' Village" without knowing they were spending real money. ITunes didn't ask for a password for in-game purchases if it had been entered within the previous 15 minutes for any reason. This meant that parents could download a free app, hand over their devices to their kids, and later find big charges on their iTunes accounts.

Apple reversed the charges of complaining customers. It also tightened its password policy with a software update in March. Entering the password outside an app no longer triggers a password-free period for in-app purchases, which now have a separate 15-minute timer.



Google Inc.'s data privacy chief says he's confident Google Street View will be deemed legal in Switzerland ahead of a court hearing later this week.

Peter Fleischer says the service, which allows Internet users to virtually tour locations on a map, is comparable to similar offerings by rivals and meets the country's strict privacy rules.

To produce the service, Google used special vehicles with panoramic cameras to take ground-level, 3-D images. Federal data protection commissioner Hanspeter Thuer has asked Switzerland's top administrative court to force Google to obscure all faces also caught by the cameras or take the service offline.

The court in Bern will hear both sides' arguments Thursday and likely issue a ruling at a later date.



Former Harvard University classmates of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg want to throw out a $65 million settlement of their lawsuit that alleged the social network was their idea.

Lawyers for twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss argued their case before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday. They claim they were duped into agreeing to the 2008 settlement after Facebook lawyers and executives misrepresented the value of the company.

But the three-judge appeals panel appeared reluctant to reopen the case. According to the San Jose Mercury News, the judges noted that the Winklevosses were well-educated and had good legal advisers at the time, so they should have known what they were getting into.



An industrial espionage trial between Oracle Corp. and SAP AG, two of the world's biggest business software makers, ended Friday without the testimony of one of its most anticipated witnesses.

The evidence part of the three-week trial wrapped up Friday without an in-person appearance by the new CEO of Hewlett-Packard Co., Leo Apotheker, and without Oracle playing a videotaped deposition he gave.

The cat-and-mouse game of Oracle trying to force Apotheker to testify, and HP refusing to allow it, has captivated technology watchers and overshadowed Apotheker's start as head of the world's biggest technology company by revenue.

Oracle wanted Apotheker to testify because he was previously SAP's CEO.

But Oracle says that HP refused to accept a subpoena on Apotheker's behalf. HP accused Oracle of harassing Apotheker.

Oracle hired investigators to track down Apotheker, but since he started the HP job Nov. 1, he wasn't spotted close enough to the federal courthouse in Oakland, where the case is being tried, for Oracle to serve him with the subpoena. The subpoena only applies within 100 miles of the courthouse, which includes HP's headquarters in Palo Alto.

HP hasn't disclosed Apotheker's whereabouts. Representatives have repeatedly said that the company doesn't discuss its executives' travel plans.

Oracle is demanding billions of dollars in damages from SAP for software and customer support documents that SAP has admitted to stealing. SAP claims it owes only $40 million. Closing arguments are expected next week.



According to a statement from Nokia on Wednesday, "Apple's action is an unsurprising development, which seems designed to put pressure on the ongoing dialogue between both companies". It is not yet clear which patents are the subject of the suit.

Nokia was the first aggressor in the legal war, having sued Apple over the iPhone manufacturer's use of GSM, 3G and Wi-Fi patents in October 2009. Apple struck back with a countersuit in December 2009. In March 2010, a Delaware court put both lawsuits on hold to give the US International Trade Commission time to issue its own deliberation on the matter. Then, in May, Nokia expanded its original suit to include the iPad as well as the iPhone.

According to a Nokia spokesperson, Apple's UK suit "changes nothing in the fundamentals of the matter, which are rooted in Apple's refusal to respect Nokia's intellectual property and attempt to free ride on the back of Nokia's innovation".


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