Google must answer to British justice, say UK privacy claimants

New Update

LONDON, UK: The fight to ensure Google cannot evade British justice goes before the English High Court on Monday, when a group of British internet users take action against the internet giant.


The claimants argue that Google breached their privacy in England and should be held to account here too.

In their claim, filed in London, the group of claimants, known as Safari Users Against Google's Secret Tracking, 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.

But Google has said that the claim should have been brought in the United States, where it is based, and will argue against it being heard in England at a jurisdiction hearing on Monday.


Judith Vidal-Hall, one of the claimants argues that Google should answer to British justice. "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 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 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 reign in Google's continued gathering and use of private data, but so far Google has not be held to account in Europe for its breach of users' privacy. Olswang's Dan Tench represents the claimants:

"British users have a right to privacy protected by English and European laws. Google may weave complex legal arguments about why the case should not be heard here, but it has 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."

The Google Governance Campaign has been set up by campaigners associated with the Safari Users Against Google's Secret Tracking group. Its mission is to campaign for better corporate behaviour by Google in the UK, respecting Britons' right to privacy and Britain's right to taxation on any profits generated in the country.