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Google claims it is not subject to UK privacy laws

Warwick Ashford

Google is claiming it is not subject to UK law in an attempt to quash legal action by UK iPhone users, angry over privacy breaches.

The legal action, set in motion in January, is based on claims that Google circumvented Apple security settings on iPhones, iPads and desktop versions of Safari that block websites from tracking users through cookies.

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In 2012, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found Google was exploiting a Safari loophole that enabled it to install monitoring-enabling cookies on web users’ machines through adverts on websites.

This allowed Google to track browsing habits without permission, although Google claimed no personal information had been collected.

In August 2012, the FTC fined Google $22.5m for monitoring US Safari browser users, even though they had a "do not track" privacy setting selected.

Not covered by UK law

But in the High Court case, Google has argued that as a US company it is not covered by UK privacy laws, according to the Telegraph.

The company said in a submission to the High Court that there was “no jurisdiction” for the case to be heard in the UK because its consumer services are provided by its US division, not Google UK.

Lawyers for iPhone claimants in the UK have asked Google to reveal how it used the private information it secretly obtained, how much personal data was taken and for how long.

Claimants are suing Google for breaches of confidence and privacy, computer misuse and trespass and breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.

Observers say Google’s attempts to claim it is not subject to UK privacy law raises questions about the privacy rights of millions of UK users of Google’s web search and email services.

Unlike Google, rivals Facebook and Microsoft provide their consumer web services through European subsidiaries and would therefore be unable to claim they are subject only to US law.

Tax issues

Google has also come under fire in the UK for controversial business practices that appear to be aimed at avoiding UK tax.

The UK is leading calls for international tax rules to be brought up to date for the internet world, to remove the loopholes exploited by firms like Google and Amazon to avoid paying UK tax.

In June, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) called for a full investigation of Google’s alleged tax evasion practices in the UK.

The PAC also said it wants to see multinational companies paying more tax where their customers are located.

In response to these and other calls for reform, Treasury minister David Gauke has told MPs that HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is constrained by international tax rules.

But, he said the UK was leading efforts to lobby the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to get those rules updated.

Google’s application to dismiss the case brought by UK iPhone users is due to be heard in October


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