Google Faces Legal Action in Britain for Secretly Snooping on iPhone Users

It's the first action of its kind in the UK.

Getty Images / Leon Neal

Google is being taken to British court for secretly snooping on Safari users, it was announced on Thursday. The company has been accused of storing a “cookie” to provide targeted ads to devices, even when they specified in the browser’s settings that they did not consent to this tracking.

“In all my years speaking up for consumers, I’ve rarely seen such a massive abuse of trust where so many people have no way to seek redress on their own,” Richard Lloyd — the former director of the consumer advocacy group Which? and now the leader of the Google You Owe Us group taking the company to court — told the [BBC]( “Through this action, we will send a strong message to Google and other tech giants in Silicon Valley that we’re not afraid to fight back.”

Google allegedly bypassed privacy settings between 2011 and 2012. With an estimated 5.4 million iPhone owners in the United Kingdom during that period, there’s a large number of potential claimants. Those affected will be automatically part of the claim unless they take action and opt out. If successful, users could receive several hundred pounds each.

When asked about the court case, a Google spokesperson said: “This is not new - we have defended similar cases before. We don’t believe it has any merit and we will contest it.”

A then-current iPhone 4 on display in 2011.

Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

The lawsuit claims that Google’s actions broke the Data Protection Act, a far-reaching piece of legislation that governs how data is handled. It’s the first time such a class action-style lawsuit has been brought against a company for misuse of data in the UK. The High Court is expected to hear the case in the spring.

The company has gone to court over the same issue before in the United States. Back in 2012, Google paid $22.5 million to the Federal Trade Commission. The commission said that the company specifically told users that because Safari blocks third-party tracking cookies by default, it “effectively accomplishes the same thing as [opting out of this particular Google advertising tracking cookie].” It also claimed that as a member of the Network Advertising Initiative, it had to abide by certain practices.

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