GOOGLE has lost a Court of Appeal bid to prevent British consumers having the right to sue it in the UK over breach of privacy.
Lawyers say the ruling potentially “opens the door for litigation by millions of British Apple users”.
The decision is a victory for a group fighting for the right to take action in the English courts over the internet giant’s Apple Safari internet browser.
They include editor and publisher Judith Vidal-Hall and Robert Hann and Marc Bradshaw, who are both IT security company directors.
They accuse Google of collecting private information without their knowledge and consent between summer 2011 and spring 2012, using cookies in order to target them with personalised advertisements.
A High Court judge rejected a Google attempt to block the litigation and yesterday three appeal judges upheld his decision, saying the claims “raise serious issues which merit a trial”.
The appeal judges paved the way for legal action to go ahead when they ruled, despite Google arguments to the contrary, that misuse of private information was a tort – a civil wrong in English law – for the purposes of the rules governing service out of the jurisdiction.
They also rejected Google’s argument that the action could only go ahead under the 1998 Data Protection Act if there had been a financial loss.
The judges ruled that was too restrictive an interpretation of the law and would undermine its objective of protecting the right of privacy of individuals and their personal data.
Ms Vidal-Hall welcomed the decision and said: “This is a David and Goliath victory.
“The Court of Appeal has ensured Google cannot use its vast resources to evade English justice. Ordinary computer users like me will now have the right to hold this giant to account before the courts for its unacceptable, immoral and unjust actions.”
Law firm Olswang, which represented the three claimants, said the ruling potentially opens the door to litigation by millions of Britons who used Apple computers, iPhones, iPods and iPads during the relevant period of summer 2011 and spring 2012.
Dan Tench, partner at Olswang, said: This is an important decision by the Court of Appeal that prevents Google from evading or trivialising these very serious intrusions into the privacy of British consumers.
“Google, a company that makes billions from advertising knowledge, claims that it was unaware that it was secretly tracking Apple users for a period of nine months, and had argued that no harm was done because the matter was trivial, as consumers had not lost out financially.
“The Court of Appeal saw these arguments for what they are: a breach of consumers’ civil rights and actionable before the English courts. We look forward to holding Google to account for its actions.”
Jonathan Hawker represents the Google Action Group, a not-for-profit company set up to manage claims against the internet giant for breach of privacy through the Safari workaround.
Mr Hawker said: “Anyone who used the Safari browser during the relevant period now has the right to join our claim against Google.”
A Google spokesman said: “We’re disappointed with the court’s decision, and are considering our options.”
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