LONDON, March 28, 2015 /PRNewswire/ —
The Court of Appeal of England and Wales has dismissed an attempt by Google to prevent British computer users from being able to sue it in England.
The landmark hearing followed an earlier defeat for Google in the English High Court in which it was unsuccessful in preventing three British computer users from having the right to sue it for breach of privacy, after the computer giant ignored users’ wishes not to have tracking cookies placed on their computers. Google took the matter to Appeal, arguing that the issue was not serious and, in any case, the claimants could not demonstrate they had lost out financially as a consequence of the company’s actions. The Court of Appeal disagreed, stating in its judgment:
"These claims raise serious issues which merit a trial. They 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."
One of the three claimants against Google, Marc Bradshaw welcomed the decision:
"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."
The Court of Appeal also confirmed the Mr Justice Tugendhat judgement in the High Court that breach of privacy is a tort, dismissing Google’s argument that it should only be actionable if there is a financial loss.
The judgment set out clearly how Google profits from its advertising service that relies on tracking cookies, stating that the company "makes an annual profit of billions of dollars from the DoubleClick service" in which the DoubleClick ID Cookie, when placed onto a user’s browser, gathered data such as surfing habits, social class, race and ethnicity, sexual interests, trade union membership, religious and political beliefs, mental and physical health and financial situation. This information was gathered through what is known as the ‘Safari workaround’ in spite of the Apple Safari web browser’s default privacy settings, that opted out of permitting tracking cookies for nine months in 2011 and 2012: "As a result of the operation of the Safari Workaround during the Relevant Period the Defendant, without Safari users’ knowledge or consent thereby obtained and recorded the private and personal information referred to [above]."
Dan Tench, partner at Olswang, acting for the Claimants, welcomed the decision: "This is an important decision 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 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."
The decision opens the door to litigation by millions of Britons who used Apple computers, iPhones and iPads during the relevant period of Summer 2011 and Spring 2012. The Google Action Group is a not-for-profit company that has been set up to manage claims against the Internet giant for breach of privacy through the Safari workaround. Anyone who used the Safari browser in England and Wales during the relevant period now has the right to join the Group’s action against Google.
Notes to Editors
The Google Action Group is a not-for-profit company set up to manage the claims of consumers against Google. Founded by the Google Governance Campaign, it has funding and a specialist law firm instructed to bring an action at the earliest possible opportunity. The Group’s website – http://www.googleactiongroup.com – will be launched on Monday and any consumer wishing to join the action should contact the Group via that vehicle.