Google faces UK class action over unlawful data harvesting

30 Nov 2017

Google app download screen on iPhone. Image: Siarhei Dzmitryienka/Shutterstock

Millions of people in the UK could be entitled to compensation from Google if a class action proves to be successful.

In the first mass legal action of its kind in the UK, Google will be taken to court to face accusations of collecting personal data from 5.4m UK iPhone users, according to BBC News.

Richard Lloyd, former director of UK consumer rights body Which?, is leading the group named ‘Google, You Owe Us’. He estimates that users could be entitled to as much as “several hundred pounds each” if the proceedings go in the group’s favour.

According to The Verge, UK law firm Mishcon de Reya is also on the case, working alongside the affected group helmed by Lloyd.

A case of unwanted cookies

The case was taken in relation to Google’s placing of ad-tracking cookies on the devices of Safari users, which is set by default to block such types of cookies. It was known as the Safari workaround and, while Google said at the time that the practice was limited to its Google Plus initiative, the UK group made the case that the tracking was much broader and in breach of UK data protection laws.

Lloyd told The Guardian: “I believe that what Google did was simply against the law. 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.”

Google to contest the class action

A spokesperson said the company will contest the case as it has defended similar cases previous to this one and it doesn’t believe it has any merit. The case will be heard in the UK high court, likely in spring of next year.

In 2012, Google paid out $22.5m to the US Federal Trade Commission for the same Safari tracking issue and, while the company never admitted any wrongdoing, it was the largest FTC fine ever issued at the time.

At the time the fine was issued, pressure group Big Brother Watch said: “As we have often warned, where businesses rely on personal information to offer better targeted advertisements, there will be inherent tension between respecting consumer privacy and pursuing profit.”

Google app download screen on iPhone. Image: Siarhei Dzmitryienka/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects