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Google Slapped With UK Lawsuit Over Data Gathering

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Long rumbling argument over Google tracking Safari users results in mass civil lawsuit against the firm

Google is facing a legal headache in the UK after a long running argument over the collection of data has resulted in a large scale ‘representative action’ (or lawsuit) against the firm.

The  action is supported by the law firm Mishcon de Reya, who specialise in large scale litigation and campaigns, and the group behind it is called ‘Google You Owe Us‘.

The action comes after years of legal manovering after the Court of Appeal in the UK ruled in 2015 that UK users of Safari were able to sue Google.

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Privacy Action

The dispute centres over whether Google allegedly misused Safari’s security settings in order to track user activity between September 2011 and February 2012.

In 2013 Google had to pay a $17 million (£10.5m) settlement to 37 US states to resolve the allegations the company violated consumer privacy by using tracking cookies.

Safari is designed to block tracking but default, but Google apparently bypassed this feature (the so called ‘Safari Workaround’) to place cookies that gathered information on users and their habits so the search giant could deliver more targeted adverts.

However in January 2013, three UK Safari users also launched legal proceedings, inviting anyone who had used the browser on PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad and iPod during the period in question to join them.

Google had sought to move the court case to the United States, but the UK Appeal court ruled in 2015 that the lawsuit could be filed in the UK.

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Against The Law?

The lawsuit filed on 30 November 2017 by Google You Owe Us is led by former executive director of Which?, Richard Lloyd.

It seeks to gain compensation for the millions of people across the UK who are believed to have had their personal information collected by Google. The group alleges that roughly 5.4 million individuals were affected between 2011 and 2012, and could now be eligible for compensation.

Google You Owe Us says that it believes that this mass data haul was against the law and a violation of trust.

“I believe that what Google did was quite simply against the law,” said Lloyd. “Their actions have affected millions, and we’ll be asking the courts to remedy this major breach of trust.”

“Through this action, we will send a strong message to Google and other tech giants in Silicon Valley that we’re not afraid to fight back if our laws are broken.

“In all my years speaking up for consumers, I’ve rarely seen such a massive abuse of trust where so many people have no way to seek redress on their own. That’s why I’ve taken on one of the biggest fights of my life in representing this legal action, which is the first case of its kind in the UK against a major tech company for misusing our valuable personal data.”

Lloyd stated that he wanted to “spread the word about our claim” to all those in England and Wales who had an iPhone in 2011 or 2012.

Claimants do not have to pay any legal fees, conduct any research or (at this stage) contact any lawyers. They are already part of the claim and will be updated on the progress of the claim through the website and social media.

Nothing New

It is thought the court case will be heard in the High Court in spring 2018.

“This is not new – we have defended similar cases before,” Google has told the BBC: “We don’t believe it has any merit and we will contest it.”

In 2012 Google also had to pay a $22.5 million (£14m) fine to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for bypassing the privacy settings of Apple’s Safari browser.

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