Google sued for alleged gathering of UK iPhone users’ data

22 May 2018

Giant billboards in the UK for the Apple iPhone X. Image: Alexandre Rotenberg/Shutterstock

Google is alleged to have bypassed privacy settings of Apple Safari browser to collate data on advertisers.

Google is being sued in the UK high court for the alleged “clandestine tracking and collation” of personal data belonging to 4.4m iPhone users.

The search giant is alleged to have bypassed the privacy settings on the Safari browser between August 2011 and February 2012 in order to categorise people for advertisers.

The case is a collective action by a group called Google, You Owe Us led by former consumer magazine Which? director Richard Lloyd.

The two-day hearing opened in London yesterday (21 May).

Representative action

The plaintiffs allege that 4.4m iPhone users were affected and are due repayment from Google.

According to The Independent, the QC representing the collective action, Hugh Tomlinson, said the data was gathered through “clandestine tracking and collation” using a workaround.

He said that the activity was exposed by a PhD researcher in 2012 and that in the US, Google has already paid $39.5m to settle claims.

“We have started a representative action against Google because we believe they abused the rights of iPhone users by taking their data unlawfully,” the collective action group said on its website.

It added: “We want to ensure that big companies like Google respect our privacy in the future. Our personal information is valuable and it must be used it in a way that is trustworthy and fair.”

According to The Guardian, the group alleges that the information collected by Google included race, physical and mental health, political leanings, sexuality, social class, financial, shopping habits, and location data.

The data was then aggregated and users were put into groups, such as football lovers or current-affairs enthusiasts, for targeted advertising.

The campaign group said it hopes to win at least £1bn in compensation for 4.4m iPhone users but court documents indicate that this could amount to £3.2bn if the case is successful.

Google contends that the representative action by Lloyd and the Google, You Owe Us group is unsuitable and should not go ahead.

“The privacy and security of our users is extremely important to us,” Google said in a statement.

“This case relates to events that took place over six years ago and that we addressed at the time.

“We believe it has no merit and should be dismissed. We’ve filed evidence in support of that view and look forward to making our case in court.”

Giant billboards in the UK for the Apple iPhone X. Image: Alexandre Rotenberg/Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years