Google loses UK bid to block breach of privacy action
Group of British internet users accuses tech giant of bypassing Safari browser settings to track their online behaviour
Google has lost its bid to block an action by internet users claiming their privacy was breached when the company over-rode settings on Apple’s Safari browser in order to track them: Photograph Chris Ison/PA Wire
Google has lost its High Court bid to block a breach of privacy legal action launched against it in the UK by a group of British internet users.
The internet giant applied for a declaration that the court has no jurisdiction to try their claims, which relate to the Apple Safari internet browser.
The group, known as Safari Users Against Google’s Secret Tracking, accuse Google of bypassing security settings in order to track their online browsing and to target them with personalised advertisements.
Today Mr Justice Tugendhat, sitting at London’s High Court, ruled that the UK courts were the “appropriate jurisdiction” to try their claims.
A group spokesman said: “The Google argument that any trial should take place in California has not been accepted by the judge.”
Google’s “clandestine” tracking and collation of internet usage between summer 2011 and spring 2012 has led to distress and embarrassment among UK users. They argued in court that Google’s bid to block a trial was “misconceived” and the company should “answer to British justice”.
Allegations against Google include misuse of private information, breach of confidence and of the 1998 Data Protection Act.
In particular, it is alleged Google acted directly contrary to a 2009 amendment to an EU directive which required informed consent before a cookie could be placed on an internet user’s device for tracking and collating purposes related to behavioural advertising.
The action group says the information was collected and sold to advertisers who used its DoubleClick advertising service.
Google argued that the UK courts were not the proper place to bring a claim, and dissatisfied Safari users should have launched their claims in the United States, where Google is based.
Disagreeing, the judge ruled: “I am satisfied that there is a serious issue to be tried in each of the claimant’s claims for misuse of private information.
“The claimants have clearly established that this jurisdiction is the appropriate one in which to try each of the above claims.”
The Safari Users group hailed the judge’s ruling as “a landmark decision”.
Dan Tench, the Olswang legal firm partner leading the case for the claimants, welcomed today’s ruling, saying: “It is only right that English claimants should have a case heard in England, and not have to travel to California because it suits Google better.”
Google has unlimited resources to deal with legal matters. Ordinary Britons do not.
“This was a flagrant, if ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to evade justice. The court saw through it. We now look forward to the discovery process where we expect to find out what really happened at Google to cause it to breach privacy laws.”
Safari Users say they plan to step up their actions against Google and will launch a new broader campaigning group to draw attention to the company’s behaviour. They say: “The Google Governance Campaign (www.googlegovernance.com) aims to highlight Google’s approach to the collection and use of private data, and its conduct in the United Kingdom including its track record on tax and links with government.”