The High Court has blocked a proposed mass legal action against Google for its collection of sensitive data from iPhone users using a workaround that a judge nevertheless condemned as “wrongful”.
Former Which director Richard Lloyd had mounted the case at the head of a group called Google You Owe Us, and some 20,000 people signed up to the campaign.
Lloyd claimed Google illegally accessed iPhone users’ browsing data by bypassing privacy settings in the Safari browser from June 2011 to February 2012.
Google sold personalised advertising based on data acquired using the “Safari Workaround”, which Lloyd estimated affected about 4.5 million people.
He wanted Google to pay out some £1bn in compensation, or several hundred dollars in damages to each affected individual.
The case would have been the first mass legal action of its kind in the UK.
Google had argued the case was not appropriate and should not proceed.
High Court judge Mark Warby said in his ruling that Lloyd had not supported his argument that he and those represented by the campaign suffered “damage” as defined under data protection rules.
He also cited the impossibility of reliably calculating the number of iPhone users affected, and said the main beneficiaries of the claim would have been those who funded it and lawyers.
But he acknowledged that Google’s actions were “wrongful”.
“There is no dispute that it is arguable that Google’s alleged role in the collection, collation, and use of data obtained via the Safari Workaround was wrongful, and a breach of duty,” Warby said in the ruling.
Lloyd said the group would seek permission to appeal.
“Today’s judgment is extremely disappointing and effectively leaves millions of people without any practical way to seek redress and compensation when their personal data has been misused,” he Lloyd stated.
“Google’s business model is based on using personal data to target adverts to consumers and they must ask permission before using this data. The court accepted that people did not give permission in this case yet slammed the door shut on holding Google to account.”
Google said it considers the privacy and security of users “extremely important”.
“This claim is without merit, and we’re pleased the Court has dismissed it,” the company said.
In 2012 Google paid a then-record civil penalty of $22.5 million (£17.4m) to settle Federal Trade Commission charges related to tracking practices related to those outlined in the High Court case.