Google is at the center of another privacy lawsuit, this latest one filed in the UK on behalf of around 4.4 million iPhone owners who may have had their browsing data improperly collected. Should Google lose the legal battle, it could be on the hook for 3.2 billion pounds, or roughly $4.29 billion, the company revealed in a court filing. Google denies the allegation and doesn’t believe the issue even belongs in a London court.
The crux of the lawsuit is the use of tracking cookies of Apple’s Safari browser. It’s similar to what led Google to pay the United Stated Federal Trade Commission (FTC) $22.5 million in 2012 to settle charges brought against the company, only the fine is potentially much larger.
As with that previous lawsuit and subsequent settlement, Google stands accused of using a workaround in Safari to effectively bypass the browser’s default privacy settings in iPhone devices. This is said to have occurred between August 2011 and February 2012. During that time, the lawsuit alleges aggregated customer data into groups such as “football lovers” and “current affairs enthusiasts,” to name two examples, for the purpose of targeted advertising.
“I believe what Google did was quite simply against the law. Their actions have affected millions in England and Wales and we’ll be asking the judge to ensure they are held responsible,” Hugh Tomlinson QC (Queen’s Counsel), who is representing the plaintiffs, said ahead of the hearing.
Google is claiming innocence in the matter, saying that no personal information was shared with third parties, and that it wouldn’t be possible to identify who might have been affected by the claimed workaround. An attorney for Google also said the lawsuit amounts to a “personal ‘campaign’ agenda” on behalf of Richard Lloyd, a former executive director of the consumer watchdog Which? that is leading the legal campaign.
“The privacy and security of our users is extremely important to us. This case relates to events that took place over six years ago and that we addressed at the time,” said Tom Price, communications director for Google UK.