Google on the Hook for UK Lawsuits over Secret Tracking

Consumers in the UK have been given the greenlight to sue Google over the use of secret cookies within Apple’s Safari browser.

Three judges in the country have rejected Google's Court of Appeal bid, which it brought after a high court decided that Google can be held accountable in the UK for alleged misuse of privacy settings in Safari.

A group known as Safari Users Against Google's Secret Tracking first raised the issue three years ago, and brought to light that Google routinely bypasses Safari privacy settings with sneaky code, in order to implant cookies unbeknownst to users. The idea is to track users as they traverse the web, serving up targeted ads. In the name of better marketing, Google has supposedly gathered a wealth of personal data without user knowledge, including surfing habits, social class, race and ethnicity.

Since then, the case has dragged through the British court system.

Google didn’t deny that it had implemented the scheme, but it tried to argue that it was exempt from paying damages because Safari users hadn't suffered any financial impact.

The Court of Appeal has now flatly disagreed, and said that the claims "concern what is alleged to have been the secret and blanket tracking and collation of information, often of an extremely private nature... about and associated with the claimants' internet use, and the subsequent use of that information for about nine months. The case relates to the anxiety and distress this intrusion upon autonomy has caused.”

Google has already paid the piper for this behavior in the United States. In 2012, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ordered the Internet giant to pay a $22.5 million fine for illegal tracking. It has also paid out around $40 million in state-level lawsuits.

Dan Tench, a partner at law firm Olswang, which represents the group, told the Guardian that the landmark case would decide “whether British consumers actually have any right to hold Google to account in this country.”

He said: “This is the appropriate forum for this case—here in England where the consumers used the internet and where they have a right to privacy.”

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