Google faced with privacy lawsuits for snooping on Apple users without consent

The search giant had sought to block attempts by three Brits to sue the company over the monitoring of their web browsing

Google could face a wave of privacy lawsuits in the UK after three people won the right to sue the search giant for snooping on their web browsing.

The search giant had sought to block attempts by three Brits to sue the company over the monitoring of their web browsing without consent. But the Court of Appeal today dismissed the attempts, saying that the cases “raise serious issues which merit a trial”.

In a statement, the three judges hearing the case said: “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.”

Google’s DoubleClick business regularly collects information on people’s web browsing activity through so-called ‘cookies’, lines of code stored on people’s hard drives that demarcate the user and send information to the cookie’s planter.

DoubleClick typically collects information from Google’s own browser Chrome, gaining consent to do so when people agree to Chrome’s terms of use. But DoubleClick developed what was dubbed the ‘Safari workaround’ that allowed it to track people’s activity on the rival web browser Safari, developed by Apple.

Google was able to collect data on everything from race and religious to news reading habit, sexual interests and even mental health. Information was collected without the consent or knowledge of users between the summer of 2011 and the spring of 2012.

Judith Vidal-Hall, one of the claimants against Google, said: “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.”

Dan Tench, partner at Olswang, the firm that represented Vidal-Hall and the other claimants, said: “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 ruling could pave the way for other Apple users to take action against Google. The Google Action Group has been set up to manage claims against the technology giant and spokesperson Jonathan Hawker said: “Anyone who used the Safari browser during the relevant period now has the right to join our claim against Google.  Whilst it has the resources to fight individual claimants, together we have the resources and funding to bring this serious matter before the English courts and to attempt to recover damages for Safari users. We urge all Safari users to join us in this battle to hold Google to account for its actions in the only way it understands.”

A spokesperson for Google said: “We're disappointed with the Court's decision, and we're considering our options.“

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