‘Landmark’ Google data case opens in Supreme Court

supreme court1The long-running legal action which alleges Google tracked millions of iPhone users without their permission is heading to the Supreme Court today in a case which many believe could be make or break for a raft of compensation claims in the UK over abuse of data rights.

The case has been brought by “Google You Owe Us”, a group set up by former Which? director Richard Lloyd, and has been running for nearly four years. It actually dates back over a decade, when it is alleged the mass “slurping” of personal data first took place.

Lloyd’s lawyers allege Google bypassed privacy settings on Apple iPhone handsets between August 2011 and February 2012 and used data to divide people into categories for advertisers.

It is claimed that the information collected included racial or ethnic origin, physical and mental heath, political affiliations or opinions, sexuality and sexual interests and social class.

It is also said that information about an individual’s financial situation, shopping habits and their geographical location were obtained and that the data was then aggregated and users were put into groups such as “football lovers” or “current affairs enthusiasts”.

Lloyd first started legal action in November 2017, when Google was summoned to the High Court to answer the charges. Google You Owe Us is hoping to win at least £1bn in compensation for alleged breaches of the Data Protection Act.

But Google argues data protection claims for compensation need to show proof of damage and that Lloyd’s proposed case should not go ahead.

At a two-day remote hearing, starting today, the UK’s highest court will consider whether the claim should proceed.

The High Court initially ruled that Mr Lloyd could not serve the claim on Google outside the jurisdiction of England and Wales in October 2018, but that decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal in October 2019.

In a statement before the hearing, Lloyd said: “Global technology companies are not above the law – no matter where they are. It is their legal duty to use our data appropriately and to keep it safe.

“Google illegally misused the data of millions of iPhone users without consent and we want to hold them to account.

“The UK Supreme Court will have to decide two important points of law: what kinds of damages can be recovered by consumers for data breaches and when representative actions can be brought to recover those damages.

“Google makes billions of pounds in revenue from advertising based on our personal data every year. It is only right that they should be held to account for profiting from the misuse of that personal data.”

His solicitor James Oldnall, managing partner at the law firm Milberg, added: “It cannot be right that consumers have no form of redress against big companies that misuse their data.

“Our data has value. We are providing the raw material that tech businesses profit from by using it to sell advertising: we are the product. But our data can also reveal sensitive information about us and so the law gives us rights to protect it and decide how it is used.

“We are trying to establish the means by which we can exercise those data rights. Google misused our data with the ‘Safari workaround’ in 2011.

The action is being seen by many as a landmark case and could determine whether class action lawsuits planned against British Airways, TalkTalk, Experian, and EasyJet – among others – over breaches of data protection law proceed.

Oldnall added: “Our case now is about whether companies like Google are liable to us as consumers for data breaches and the manner in which they can be held to account. If we don’t stand up to Google, who will?”

A Google spokeswoman said: “These claims relate to events that took place a decade ago and that we addressed at the time. We look forward to making our case in court.”

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