Google Claims it is Exempt from UK Privacy Laws

Google

Google has found itself at the centre of a landmark case that may set a precedent on how US Internet companies view and are affected by UK privacy laws.

A group of Brits are taking the Internet search giant to court over its web tracking practices. Google has been employing the use of a loophole in Apple’s Safari web browser to circumvent privacy settings in order to access and mine extra Internet history information. The practice has already seen Google fined $22.5 million in the United States by the FTC.

Google, however, contends that as it is an American company and its consumer services are based in Silicon Valley it is not covered by British privacy laws. As such, Google have argued the British high court has “no jurisdiction”, and that the case should be thrown out or moved to its home state of California.

The focus of the case is on Apple’s Internet browser, Safari, which is the default web browser on iPhones, iPads, and Macs. The browser is set up to block ‘cookies’ by default, a standard that allows Internet firms and websites to track what users do and search online. Google, however, wrote special software that granted it the ability to bypass Apple’s default settings, without first informing users. In the UK, and across Europe, websites are required legally to notify users if they use cookies.

Over 100 people in the UK are now seeking compensation from the search giant, who wish to turn the case into a class action lawsuit. Notably, the claimants want to take their action through the high court, as any action taken by the Information Commissioner’s Office would be of little concern to Google; the maximum fine Britain’s data protection watchdog can impose on a company is £500,000, less than 0.002% of the Internet firm’s annual turnover.

“It seems absurd to suggest that consumers can’t bring a claim against a company which is operating in the UK and is even constructing a $1bn headquarters in London” noted claimant Marc Bradshaw, speaking to the Telegraph.

Another claimant, Judith Vidal-Hall, begged the question: “What are they suggesting – that they will force Apple users whose privacy was violated to pay to travel to California to take action when they offer a service in this country on a .co.uk site?”

Google’s application to have the case dismissed in the UK is to be heard in October.

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