Google defeated in English Court of Appeal; landmark decision opens door for litigation by millions of British Apple users

The Court of Appeal of England and Wales has dismissed an attempt by Google to prevent British computer users from being able to sue it in England.

The landmark hearing followed an earlier defeat for Google in the English High Court in which it was unsuccessful in preventing three British computer users from having the right to sue it for breach of privacy, after the computer giant ignored users wishes not to have tracking cookies placed on their computers. Google took the matter to Appeal, arguing that the issue was not serious and, in any case, the claimants could not demonstrate they had lost out financially as a consequence of the company’s actions. The Court of Appeal disagreed, stating in its judgment:

“These claims raise serious issues which merit a trial. They concern what is alleged to have been the secret and blanket tracking and collation of information, often of an extremely private nature… about and associated with the claimants’ internet use, and the subsequent use of that information for about nine months. The case relates to the anxiety and distress this intrusion upon autonomy has caused.”

One of the three claimants against Google, Marc Bradshaw welcomed the decision: “This is a David and Goliath victory. The Court of Appeal has ensured Google cannot use its vast resources to evade English justice. Ordinary computer users like me will now have the right to hold this giant to account before the courts for its unacceptable, immoral and unjust actions.”

The Court of Appeal also confirmed the Mr Justice Tugendhat judgement in the High Court that breach of privacy is a tort, dismissing Google’s argument that it should only be actionable if there is a financial loss.

The judgment set out clearly how Google profits from its advertising service that relies on tracking cookies, stating that the company “makes an annual profit of billions of dollars from the DoubleClick service” in which the DoubleClick ID Cookie, when placed onto a user’s browser, gathered data such as surfing habits, social class, race and ethnicity, sexual interests, trade union membership, religious and political beliefs, mental and physical health and financial situation. This information was gathered through what is known as the ‘Safari workaround’ in spite of the Apple Safari web browser’s default privacy settings, that opted out of permitting tracking cookies for nine months in 2011 and 2012: “As a result of the operation of the Safari Workaround during the Relevant Period the Defendant, without Safari users’ knowledge or consent thereby obtained and recorded the private and personal information referred to [above].”

Dan Tench, partner at Olswang, acting for the Claimants, welcomed the decision: “This is an important decision that prevents Google from evading or trivialising these very serious intrusions into the privacy of British consumers. Google, a company that makes billions from advertising knowledge, claims that it was unaware that was secretly tracking Apple users for a period of nine months and had argued that no harm was done because the matter was trivial as consumers had not lost out financially. The Court of Appeal saw these arguments for what they are: a breach of consumers’ civil rights and actionable before the English courts. We look forward to holding Google to account for its actions.”

The decision opens the door to litigation by millions of Britons who used Apple computers, iPhones and iPads during the relevant period of Summer 2011 and Spring 2012. The Google Action Group is a not-for-profit company that has been set up to manage claims against the Internet giant for breach of privacy through the Safari workaround. Anyone who used the Safari browser in England and Wales during the relevant period now has the right to join the Group’s action against Google.

The Google Action Group is a not-for-profit company set up to manage the claims of consumers against Google. Founded by the Google Governance Campaign, it has funding and a specialist law firm instructed to bring an action at the earliest possible opportunity. The Group’s website – http://www.googleactiongroup.com – will be launched on Monday and any consumer wishing to join the action should contact the Group via that vehicle.

Source: Google Action Group

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Readers “Fred Mertz” and “buddabob” for the heads up.]

Related articles:
UK Apple Safari users sue Google for secretly tracking Web browsing – January 28, 2013
Google pays $22.5 million to settle charges of bypassing Apple Safari privacy settings – August 9, 2012
US FTC votes to fine Google $22.5 million for bypassing Safari privacy settings; Settlement allows Google to admit no liability – July 31, 2012
Google’s D.C. lobbyists have outspent Apple nearly 10 to 1 so far this year – July 23, 2012
Google to pay $22.5 million to settle charges over bypassing privacy settings of millions of Apple users – July 10, 2012
Apple’s anti-user tracking policy has mobile advertisers scrambling – May 9, 2012
Google said to be negotiating amount of U.S. FTC fine over Apple Safari breach – May 4, 2012
Cookies and privacy, Google and Safari – February 25, 2012
Obama’s privacy plan puts pinch on Google – February 24, 2012
Obama administration outlines online privacy guidelines – February 23, 2012
Google sued by Apple Safari-user for bypassing browser privacy – February 21, 2012
Google responds to Microsoft over privacy issues, calls IE’s cookie policy ‘widely non-operational’ – February 21, 2012
Google’s tracking of Safari users could prompt FTC investigation – February 18, 2012
WSJ: Google tracked iPhone, iPad users, bypassing Apple’s Safari browser privacy settings; Microsoft denounces – February 17, 2012

31 Comments

  1. It seems to me that fair damages in the case would be for Google to pay each claimant the amount of money they made from selling that claimants personal information they collected over the 9+\- months to advertisers, etc.

    That would amount to humdreds of pounds (dollars) per person, and cost Google billions.

    1. Plus some hefty punitive damages which should act as a nice nasty wood ruler rap on Google’s knuckles by a vengeful justice nun.

      There needs to be real definitive ‘tude correction to these data-collecting assholes and all like them. The advantages for this kind of data collection seem to be all one-sided.

    2. Problem with this is that each claimant or the class action must show documented proof that Google Search, YouTube, Maps (other services need an account where the terms are agreed upon) was used by them and that data collected was not used only in aggregate. All probably even before the case is considered in court.

  2. Great call! People need to be able to manage what is known about them. We often tend to lose sight that just because an EULA is a contract, it’s not necessarily a legal contract in it’s full extent.

  3. And, of course, Go-ogle will be richly rewarded for this behavior in the US.

    They’ll receive kickbacks during one of their weekly meetings with officials in the White House.

          1. And now with this same leadershit it’s just getting plain dangerous with a gullible, inexperienced, naive & immature President handing Iran the key to the nuclear kingdom, all in a desperate misguided attempt to have some kind of foreign policy in place there.

            1. Iran is a sworn enemy of our ally Israel who’s Islamic government in their religious fervor just might nuke Israel, etc.. I would call that a problem. Nukes in the hands of religious extremists not a good idea and I can’t think of many WORSE problems to have or take note of.

            2. Iran is a tough nut from my POV. The USA manipulated the hell out of their government a few decades ago and they’ve been abusive back ever since they tossed out their puppet shah. So I can’t blame some of their attitude. BUT, letting them get their hands on nukes has to be one of the biggest no-nos of all time. We know exactly what they’ll be used for, sooner or later. And I don’t think the result will be good for ANYONE, especially Iran.

  4. “in any case, the claimants could not demonstrate they had lost out financially as a consequence of the company’s actions”
    This is a key strategy for Google for giving away things for free.

    1. Now, the class action claimants have the burden of proof to legally document that they were actively using Google during the period in question. Not sure how they are going to do that.

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