A UK appeals court has ruled to allow a collective lawsuit against Google, for ignoring privacy settings to track the web activity of Safari users on iPhones, according to Engadget and TechCrunch.
High Court chancellor Sir Geoffrey Ross said that if the lawsuit is successful, it would hold Google accountable for “deliberate misuse of personal data without consent.”
In 2011 and 2012, Google bypassed iPhone privacy settings to install tracking cookies and monitor users’ activity online.
According to Richard Lloyd, the consumer rights advocate who filed the suit in 2017 on behalf of millions of UK users, damages could reach £750 per person, or about £3.3 billion total. While most of that sum might not reach users, it would serve as a warning against such practices in the future.
A High Court judge last year blocked the lawsuit, saying he wasn’t convinced the claimants could meet the UK’s high legal standard to demonstrate they had suffered damage that warrants compensation. The appeals court has overturned that decision, rejecting Google’s argument that UK and EU law require “proof of causation and consequential damage.”
The judge said that by tracking and collecting data, the company had taken something of value from users, who had faced the same loss and could act as a group, in a “representative action” similar to class action lawsuits in the US.
The law firm representing the claimants, Mishcon de Reya, said the decision is “groundbreaking.”
Partner and case lead James Oldnall said:
“This decision is significant not only for the millions of consumers affected by Google’s activity but also for the collective action landscape more broadly. The Court of Appeal has confirmed our view that representative actions are essential for holding corporate giants to account. In doing so it has established an avenue to redress for consumers.”
The law firm said that the ruling has confirmed that personal data has economic value under the law, that users who have lost control of their data have a shared interest, and that representative actions are the only way to pursue these claims.
In the US, Google paid $22.5 million to settle the issue with the Federal Trade Commission in 2012.
Google says it will go to the UK’s top court for permission to appeal. A spokesperson for the company told TechCrunch:
“Protecting the privacy and security of our users has always been our number one priority. This case relates to events that took place nearly a decade ago and that we addressed at the time. We believe it has no merit and should be dismissed.”