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The case relates to Google’s data breach between 2011 and 2012 where Google misused the claimants’ personal data for commercial purposes. In 2018, the case was heard in the High Court which ruled that the claim could not proceed.
The claim against Google was brought by Mr Richard Lloyd, former director of Which?, who represents 4.4 million iPhone users in a consumer campaign group called “Google You Owe Us” (the Claimants). The Claimants allege that Google secretly tracked some of their internet activity for commercial purposes between 2011 and 2012.
The central issue in the case was whether or not the Claimants would be permitted to bring a representative action against Google.
Mr Lloyd alleged that between 2011 and 2012, through Apple’s Safari web browser, Google identified visits to any website displaying an advertisement from its vast advertising network, and collected considerable amounts of information. Google could tell the date, time and duration of visits to such pages and advertisements. Additionally Google could collect data from the Safari browser on users’ internet browsing habits as well as their ethnicity, health, sexuality, political views and finances.
The user’s approximate geographical location could also be identified through the browser’s IP address. The Claimants allege that Google could track such information even when users had opted for a “do not track” privacy setting.
In 2012, Google paid $22.5 million in damages on the same issue in the United States.
In the High Court in 2018, the Judge had dismissed the Claimants’ application for permission to serve notice of legal proceedings on Google in the USA, which prevented the court proceedings from going ahead.
The grounds upon which the High Court refused permission were:
However, the Claimants were granted permission to appeal the High Court Decision in the Court of Appeal.
On 2 October 2019, the Court of Appeal reversed the High Court Judge’s decision and permitted the Claimants the right to proceed with representative proceedings against Google in the High Court in London.
The Court of Appeal concluded the following issues:
The claim will now be heard in the High Court and the level of damages will be determined by the Court if the Claimants win.
The Claimants have estimated that if they were to win at the High Court trial, damages could run to £750.00 per iPhone user which would cost Google a total of approximately £3.2 billion.
Google has announced that it will seek permission to appeal to the Supreme Court on the basis that they believe the claim has no merit and should be dismissed.
The case will be the first representative action brought against a technology company for misuse of personal data in the UK. It serves as a reminder for large commercial organisations of the potentially significant financial consequences arising from data breaches that could affect millions of customers. If an organisation commits a data breach, it is not only the regulatory fines that organisations need to be aware of, but also claims for damages if litigation such as Lloyd v Google is successful.
The influence of group litigation, and therefore the significant financial impact, following Lloyd v Google has already been demonstrated; on 4 October 2019, the High Court granted permission for half a million British Airways customers to bring compensation claims against the airline for a data breach that occurred in September 2018.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at October 2019. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms and conditions.
08 October 2019
by Richard Hayllar
Managing Associate Bristol