Sergey Nivens - Fotolia
A group advised by City law firm Mischon de Reya is suing Google for £2.7bn on behalf of 5.4 million iPhone users in the first mass legal action of its kind in the UK.
Google is accused of unlawfully collecting personal information by bypassing the default privacy settings on the iPhone between June 2011 and February 2012, according to the group, which calls itself Google You Owe Us.
The legal action is the latest to be based on claims that Google harvested the browsing histories of iPhone owners by using an algorithm bypassing the default privacy settings on the iPhone to block user tracking.
This meant the company was able to access data from the iPhone’s default browser, Safari, and allegedly collected data about users’ web browsing habits between June 2011 and February 2012.
According to Google You Owe Us, the search engine breached the UK Data Protection Act by taking personal information without permission.
The group is led by consumer advocate and former executive director of consumer body Which?, Richard Lloyd, who said Google’s actions represent a “major breach of trust” for iPhone users.
“Through this action, we will send a strong message to Google and other tech giants in Silicon Valley that we are not afraid to fight back if our laws are broken,” he said. “In all my years speaking up for consumers, I have rarely seen such a massive abuse of trust where so many people have no way to seek redress on their own.”
Peter Vicary-Smith, chief executive of Which?, said: “People have to put their trust in big companies like Google because they increasingly play a large role in our everyday lives. To have this good faith rewarded by Google taking advantage of people’s information without their consent is something that rightly must be challenged.
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“This welcome campaign should empower consumers by bringing the issue into the spotlight and enabling those affected to rightly seek collective compensation.”
In a statement to the BBC, Google said: “This is not new – we have defended similar cases before. We don’t believe it has any merit and we will contest it.”
In August 2012, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined Google $22.5m for monitoring Safari browser users even though they had selected a “do not track” privacy setting.
The FTC launched an investigation after a Stanford University researcher reported that Google was bypassing browser privacy settings.
Google was also forced to pay a separate $17m fine levied by attorneys general in 10 US states over its unauthorised placement of cookies on computers using Apple Safari web browsers from 2011 to 2012.
The company also settled out of court with a small number of UK iPhone users. Throughout the case, which began in January 2013, Google argued that it was not subject to UK data protection laws, but in January 2014, High Court judge Michael Tugendhat ruled that the UK was an “appropriate” jurisdiction for the case.
The case brought by Google You Owe Us is expected to be heard in the High Court in early 2018. ............................................................................................................................................................................................