Google users do battle in court

4249731778_c071fcb365_oA group of internet users has come face to face with Google in the High Court this week in order to ensure that legal action, launched by the group, can take place in the UK.

The group, Safari Users Against Google’s Secret Tracking, has accused Google of bypassing security settings on the Safari internet browser in order to track their online browsing and to target them with personalised advertisements. However, Google is claiming that because it is based in the US the court has no jurisdiction to try the claims relating to UK claimants.

The entire situation is plainly absurd. The primary reason that the group has been required to take legal action in the first place is due to gross failings by the regulators to protect UK internet users. If this was the first time the allegations had been made Google’s position would potentially be understandable, however they have already been fined $22.5m by the Federal Trade Commission and paid $17m to US states in compensation.

Ms Vidal-Hall, one of the claimants, has argued “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.”

In our recent Global Attitudes To Privacy Online survey, 65% of consumers believed that national regulators should do more to force Google to comply with existing regulations concerning online privacy and the protection of personal data. The widespread support for EU regulators to do more to ensure Google complies with existing privacy regulations highlights how people want to see real, concrete action taken to protect their privacy.

The group is claiming that Google’s “clandestine” tracking and collation of internet usage between summer 2011 and spring 2012 has led to distress and embarrassment among UK users. 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 an 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.

Online privacy is a global issue of real importance to people and the overwhelming message is that citizens do not feel their authorities are doing enough to the desire of large companies to collect vast amounts of data on them. Until regulators start to properly hold Google to account for infringing internet users’ privacy, companies will continue to have a relaxed attitude toward consumers.