The Supreme Court has been warned that rejecting a proposed UK class action against Google for its alleged secret tracking of millions of iPhone users risks allowing all tech giants to act with impunity.
Hugh Tomlinson, who is representing “Google You Owe Us”, a group set up by former Which? director Richard Lloyd, conceded to senior judges that the case was “novel and innovative”, but insisted it was the only way to ensure access to justice and compensation.
The case, which has been running for nearly four years, dates back over a decade, when it is alleged that Google “slurped” the personal data of millions of iPhone users without their permission.
On the final day of a two-day hearing, Tomlinson said: “If we are wrong about this, there is no civil remedy,” adding that while individual compensation from a class action could be very small, there was a fundamental value to accessing justice and to providing redress.
Perhaps unsurprisingly Google’s legal team has claimed the case is not viable, arguing in part that English law only offers redress for data breaches if claimants can be shown to suffer damage.
According to legal firm Mischon de Reya, several issues need to be determined, including what is the meaning of the word “damage” in data protection law? And in what circumstances can one representative bring a massive group damages claim against a defendant when each member of the class of claimants may have had their rights infringed in differing ways and to different degrees?
Head of Mishcon de Reya data practice Adam Rose said: “The Supreme Court is going to have to decide on some of the most crucial issues for individuals and their data rights, and that will have an enormous impact on businesses’ obligations and liabilities.
“Lloyd says that Google should compensate the millions of people who unlawfully received cookies back in 2011 and 2012, when using an iPhone to browse the internet. For its part, Google says that this shouldn’t warrant compensation, and that, in any case, not every person in the millions of potential claimants can be said to have suffered the same ‘damage’.
“If Lloyd wins, we will inevitably see a large number of related ‘loss of control’ claims being brought against some of the world’s largest technology companies. If Google wins, it may become much harder for individuals to get redress for an infringement of their rights.
“Lawyers are watching this case closely, but its implications mean that everyone should be paying attention.”
However, don’t hold your breath for a decision; a judgment in the case, could take up to 12 months.
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