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Google fights UK legal action on ‘privacy breach’

A Google data centre in Georgia, USA. Picture: AP/Google

A Google data centre in Georgia, USA. Picture: AP/Google

INTERNET giant Google is asking the High Court to block legal action against it by a group of British internet users over alleged data protection breaches and misuses of private information.

Google lawyers are seeking a declaration that the UK 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.

The group includes editor and publisher Judith Vidal-Hall, with Robert Hann and Marc Bradshaw, who are both IT security company directors.

They say 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 argue Google’s bid to block a trial is “misconceived” and the company should “answer to British justice.”

Cookies

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 a 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 users action group says the information was collected and sold to advertisers who used its DoubleClick advertising service.

Google Inc wants London’s High Court to rule that the English courts are 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.

Antony White QC, appearing for Google, today argued the British claimants had failed to establish that their claims fell within one or more of the legal “gateways” which would allow them to go ahead.

Mr White told Mr Justice Tugendhat that the only potential gateway available required there to be a real basis for concluding that the conduct complained of between summer 2011-spring 2012 would be “continued or repeated”.

He said: “There is no suggestion there is any risk of repetition or continuation of that conduct - and good reason to think that it will not be repeated or continued”.

Trial ‘disproportionate’ claim Google

In written arguments before the judge, Google Inc, which is registered in Delaware and has its principal business base in California, contends any damages recovered if the claimants win are likely to be “very modest”.

A trial would be likely to last six to seven days and cost in the region of £1.2m and be disproportionately expensive.

A trial was likely to be “substantial and complex” and involve a great deal of highly technical evidence about the operation of browsers, websites and cookies.

Ms Vidal-Hall said before the court hearing, expected to last two days: “Google is very much here in the UK. It has a UK specific site. It has staff here.

“It sells adverts here. It makes money here. It is ludicrous for it to claim that, despite all of this very commercial activity, it won’t answer to our courts.

“If consumers are based in the UK and English laws are abused, the perpetrator must be held to account here, not in a jurisdiction that might suit them better.

“Google’s preference that British consumers should travel all the way to California to seek redress for its wrongdoings is arrogant, immoral and a disgrace. We will fight this attempt to dismiss the case robustly.”

 

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