Google tries to downplay UK court case over iPhone 'tracking'

The search giant paid £13.8m in the US last year for the same privacy breach

Google is attempting to dismiss claims brought forward by a group of British internet users who claim the search giant collected personal information against their will.

The claimants, known as Safari Users Against Google's Secret Tracking, argue that Google breached their privacy in England and should therefore be held to account there too.

In their claim, filed in London today, the group of claimants have accused Google of bypassing security settings on the Safari internet browser in order to track their online browsing and to target them with personalised advertisements. Google says that the plaintiffs suffered no actual harm when they were mistakenly tracked.

A spokesman for Google pointed to a similar US case that was shut down in October where the judge ruled that users had not come to any harm even if they were tracked.

"We're asking the court to re-examine whether this case meets the standards required in the UK for a case like this to go to trial," the spokesman said.

One plaintiff accused Google of "arrogant, immoral" behaviour in trying to get the case shut down in England, adding that it wants to move the lawsuit to the US where it is based.

"British users have a right to privacy protected by English and European laws," said Dan Tench, a solicitor from the law firm Olswang, which represents the claimants. "Google may weave complex legal arguments about why the case should not be heard here, but they have a legal and moral duty to users on this side of the Atlantic not to abuse their wishes. Google must be held to account here, even though it would prefer to ignore England."

Claimant Judith Vidal-Hall, said: "Google is very much here in the UK. It has a UK specific site. It has staff here. It sells adverts here. It makes money here. It is ludicrous for it to claim that, despite all of this very commercial activity, it won't answer to our courts.

"If consumers are based in the UK and English laws are abused, the perpetrator must be held to account here, not in a jurisdiction that might suit them better. Google's preference that British consumers should travel all the way to California to seek redress for its wrongdoings is arrogant, immoral and a disgrace. We will fight this attempt to dismiss the case robustly."

Google was sued for the same privacy breach in the United States in August last year, and had to pay a fine of $22.5 million (£13.8 million) to the US Federal Trade Commission for violating its order that the company would not misrepresent "the extent to which consumers can exercise control over the collection of their information."

Google did not admit to wrongdoing in the FTC case, but said the tracking was accidental. Despite this, the Attorney General of New York announced last month that the company had agreed to pay $17 million (£10.4 million) to settle charges that it secretly tracked some consumers' activities on the web, even after promising such tracking had been blocked.

Across Europe, data regulators are considering steps to rein in Google's continued gathering and use of private data, but so far Google has not been held to account in the region for its breach of user's privacy.

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