High Court Blocks $4.3bn Lawsuit Over Google iPhone Tracking

Court order blocks mass lawsuit against Google, over a decade old case that involved tracking Safari users browser history

Google’s protracted legal battle with a British campaign group should be at an end, after a ruling by the UK’s Supreme Court in London.

Reuters reported that the UK Supreme Court has blocked a planned 3.2 billion pound ($4.3 billion) British class action against Google, over allegations the firm unlawfully tracked the personal information of millions of iPhone users.

The UK’s top judges unanimously granted a Google appeal against the data privacy case on Wednesday.

UK High Court

Long dispute

The case centres over whether Google allegedly misused Safari’s security settings in order to track user activity of 4.4 million iPhone users between September 2011 and February 2012.

Safari is designed to block tracking by default, but Google a decade ago allegedly 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.

That move was not without repercussions around the world.

For example in 2013 Google had to pay a $17 million (£12.2m) settlement to 37 US states to resolve the allegations the company violated consumer privacy by using tracking cookies.

Also in 2013 three UK Safari users 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 then sought to move the court case to the United States, but the UK Appeal court in 2015 ruled that the lawsuit could be filed in the UK.

After that in 2017 Google was hit another lawsuit over the matter, but in October 2018 London’s High Court ruled that Google’s alleged role in the collection, collation and use of data from the browser was wrongful and a breach of duty, but claimants had not suffered “damage” as specified by Britain’s Data Protection Act.

But in October 2019 the Court of Appeals in London overturned that ruling.

Richard Lloyd, the former director of consumer group Which? is the representative claimant in the mass action.

Court ruling

In April 2021 it was decided that Lloyd could bring the landmark case against Google at the Supreme Court in London.

But now the High Court has ruled against Lloyd, who had sought to extend the UK’s class action regime to include compensation claims for the misuse of data – even if there is no obvious financial loss or distress.

Google reportedly said the claim was related to events that took place a decade ago and were addressed at the time.

“People want to know that they are safe and secure online, which is why for years we’ve focused on building products and infrastructure that respect and protect people’s privacy,” a Google spokesperson was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Lloyd meanwhile alleged that Google track internet browsing histories, in order to sell a targeted advertising service.

Lloyd had alleged that Google earned $80 billion from advertising alone in 2016.