Google in The Clear: UK Court Rejects Mass Lawsuit Against The Tech Giant

The UK’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Wednesday to back Google’s appeal against a mass legal action that it wrongfully collected millions of iPhone users’ data.

The legal action was taken on behalf of around 4.4 million people in England and Wales, who have now been denied compensation of up to £750 ($1,000) each. This amounted to £3 billion in total.

The Supreme Court overruled the Court of Appeal’s 2019 judgement. Had it not been, the case could have opened the door to other mass legal actions in the UK in other data privacy cases.

Google was accused of illegally misusing the data of millions of iPhone users by secretly tracking their web browsing activity through advert-tracking cookies and other data-storing technology, and using the data to sell a targeted advertising service between June 2011 and February 2012.

Richard Lloyd, a consumer rights advocate and former director of consumer group Which?, was the one to bring the case in 2017.

The Supreme Court said that his claim could not succeed because Lloyd could not prove that all the individuals he was representing “suffered any material damage or distress,” and so could not have all suffered the same harm.

Lord Legatt, a Supreme Court justice, said: “The attempt to recover compensation without proving any facts particularly to any individual iPhone user, and in particular, without alleging or proving the Google’s alleged unlawful conduct caused any financial damage or mental distress to any such individual is therefore unsustainable.

“In these circumstances, the claim cannot succeed and permission to serve the proceedings on Google outside the jurisdiction was rightly refused by the judge.”

He added: “What gives the appearance of substance to the claim is the allegation that Google secretly tracked the internet activity of millions of Apple iPhone users for several months and used the data obtained for commercial purposes.

“But on analysis, the claimant is seeking to recover damages without attempting to prove that this allegation is true in the case of any individual for whom damages are claimed.”

Lloyd said he was “bitterly disappointed” with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“They have overturned a very clear ruling by senior, expert judges in the Court of Appeal,” he said.

“Although the Court once again recognized that our action is the only practical way that millions of British people can get access to fair redress, they’ve slammed the door shut on this case by ruling that everyone affected must go to court individually.

“If there are few consequences for abusing our personal data, then there is little incentive for companies like Google to protect consumers.

“The government must now step in to make the system clearer and stronger by bringing in the right for groups of consumers to take action together under the Data Protection Act. The responsibility to protect our privacy, data rights and collective action is squarely back with the government.”

Lloyd’s lawyer James Oldnall said: “The ruling today gives Google and rest of Big Tech the green light to continue misusing our data without consent, knowing they will go unpunished. It is a dark day when corporate greed is valued over our right to privacy.”

A Google spokesperson said: “This claim was related to events that took place a decade ago and that we addressed at the time.”

They added: “People want to know that they are safe and secure online, which is why for years we’ve focused on building products and infrastructure that respect and protect people’s privacy.”

Due to the breach, Google paid a record $22.5 million in a settlement with the US Federal Trade Commission in 2012. It also paid a further $17 million to a number of US states in which it had collected data for advertising despite telling users it would not, but this latter settlement was constructed in a way that meant it did not accept any liability.

 

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