Google, privacy and a new kind of lawsuit

Today is Data Privacy Day – and new lawsuit has been launched against Google in the UK – one which highlights a number of key issues. It could be very important – a ‘landmark case’ according to a report on Reuters. The most notable thing about the case, for me, is that it is consumer-led: UK consumers are no longer relying on the authorities, and the Information Commissioner’s Office in particular, to safeguard their privacy. They’re taking it into their own hands.

The case concerns the way that Google exploited a bug in Apple’s Safari browser to enable it to bypass customers’ privacy settings. As reported on Reuters:

“Through its DoubleClick adverts, Google designed a code to circumvent privacy settings in order to deposit the cookies on computers in order to provide user-targeted advertising. The claimants thought that cookies were being blocked on their devices because of Safari’s strict default privacy settings and separate assurances being given by Google at the time. This was not the case.”

The group of consumers have engaged noted media and telecomms lawyers Olswang for the case. Dan Tench, the partner at Olswang responsible for the case, told Reuters:

“Google has a responsibility to consumers and should be accountable for the trust placed in them. We hope that they will take this opportunity to give Safari users a proper explanation about what happened, to apologise and, where appropriate, compensate the victims of their intrusion.”

For further information – and if you want to join the action – Tench can be contacted by email at daniel.tench@olswang.com

There’s also a Facebook page for the suit: https://www.facebook.com/SafariUsersAgainstGooglesSecretTracking

What’s important here?

The case highlights several crucial aspects of privacy on the net. The first is the extent to which we can – or should be able to – rely on the settings we make on our browsers. What was happening here is that those settings were being overridden. Now it’s a moot point quite how many people use their privacy settings – or indeed even know that they exist – but if those settings are being overridden by anyone, let alone a company as big and respected as Google, it’s something that we need to know about and to fight. Browser settings – and privacy settings in general – are the key control, perhaps the only control, that individuals have over their online privacy, so we need to know that they work if we are to have any trust. A lack of trust is something that damages everyone.

The second is that the case highlights that users aren’t going to take things lying down – and neither are they going to rely on what often seem to be supine regulators, regulators unwilling to take on the ‘big boys’ of the internet, regulators who seem to take their role as supporters of business much more seriously than their role as protectors of the public. Alexander Hanff, a privacy advocate who is assisting Olswang on this case, said that:

“This group action is not about getting rich by suing Google, this lawsuit is about sending a very clear message to corporations that circumventing privacy controls will result in significant consequences. The lawsuit has the potential of costing Google £10s of millions, perhaps even breaking £100m in damages given the potential number of claimants – making it the biggest group action ever launched in the UK. It should also be seen as a message to the Information Commissioner’s Office that they are in contempt of the British public and are not doing their job.”

This last point is crucial – and it may suggest not that the Information Commissioner’s Office are not doing their job but that their job is one that needs redefining. The ICO sometimes appears to be caught between two stools – their role is more complex than just as protectors of the public. They’re not a Privacy Commissioner’s Office – and perhaps that is what we need. An office with teeth whose prime task is to protect individuals’ privacy.

What happens next?

This lawsuit will be watched very carefully by everyone in the field of online privacy. The number of people who join the case is one question – there are plenty who could, as Safari, though somewhat a niche browser on computers, is the default browser on iPhones, so is used by many millions in the UK. How it progresses has yet to be seen – there are many different possibilities. If nothing else, I hope it acts as a wake-up-call for all involved: Google, the ICO, and the public.

7 thoughts on “Google, privacy and a new kind of lawsuit

  1. […] “Through its DoubleClick adverts, Google designed a code to circumvent privacy settings in order to deposit the cookies on computers in order to provide user-targeted advertising. The claimants thought that cookies were being blocked on their devices because of Safari’s strict default privacy settings and separate assurances being given by Google at the time. This was not the case.”… Go to Paul Bernal’s blog to read the entire article […]

  2. “DEACTIVATE YOUR GOOGLE ACCOUNT! Social Media = 24/7 Privacy Invasion

    GOOGLE is ACTUALLY DOING MUCH EVIL! They are simply a spy service. Every location you search on google earth is logged and tracked and sold to government agencies and ad agencies. Every word or sentence you type into google is logged and tracked and sold to government agencies and ad agencies. Every page you click on in google is logged and tracked and sold to government agencies and ad agencies.A data file about everything you do on the internet using any google technology is logged and tracked and sold to government agencies and ad agencies.

    Google makes most of its money by spying on people.Why would you use something that makes you cooperate in spying on yourself? Everything you watch on googles youtube is logged and tracked and sold to government agencies and ad agencies.

    Google reads all of your email. Google sends any interesting emails with words it doesn’t like to agencies and the rest are put in an advertising database to trick you into thinking you stumbled upon certain ads when, in fact Google is secretly pushing those ads on you.

    Google GLASS is the ultimate spy-on-you-tool, it has face recognition, fashion recognition and pretty much spies on everybody and everything around you, and you, and then Google sends that data off to the Government. Never get near anybody wearing a Google Glass. Ask to have them out-lawed. Google Maps camera cars take picturs & capture wifu data for everyone in the US.

    Google saves a file of everything you have ever done, looked at, sent or moused over IN YOUR ENTIRE HISTORY OF USING THE INTERNET. It isn’t a business right anymore, it is an abuse of the public trust. https://anonfiles.com/file/08d71da7cfd68cc782e50cd156283457

    Google has thousands of people that work for them to create technologies to control the internet in order to make people give more information to google about themselves and that personal information is logged and tracked and sold to government agencies and ad agencies. Do you like being used as a tool? Do you like Google infesting your life for profit and special interest control of what you do? Twitter & Facebook are just as sinister and evil. Dump all of your “social media” accounts. Don’t use social media.

    Use http://www.duckduckgo.com or any other non tracking search engine. Find a non tracking replacement for every service google offers. Google is very evil! You will NEVER be able to trust Google.

    Write your Congressman. Tell them to outlaw Google data capture. Join a class action lawsuit against them”

    PLEASE RE-POST”

  3. Join F.O.G.

    (F**k Off: Google!)

    When Eric Schmidt isn’t out screwing all his escorts in his Manhatten Shag-Pad he is out screwing you over by operating the biggest lie in American history: Google!

    Never has so much been spent to screw over so many American’s in such an insidious manner.

    All of the news has finally disclosed that Google’s business model is entirely based on intelligence gathering for marketing companies, hackers and secret programs. They use you like a sophmore uses an old sock. There is not a single thing that Google does that you can’t get for free elsewhere and without compromising your soul. Even their search engine results are rigged.

    1. Cancel your Google account.

    2. Send an email to info@google.com that says, simply: “F.O.G.”

    3. Watch Craigslist and meetup.com for F.O.G. events at Google office locations (You can even organize them yourself)

    4. Post every sighting of Eric Schmidt, every action he takes, every story about him, etc. on your social media under hashtage #f.o.g. Peel his privacy like he did to you.

    5. Post the FOG Logo everywhere. (Black Helvetica caps “FU”, red Google Cap “G”)

    PASS THIS AROUND AND POST IT IN ALL NEWS STORY COMMENTS SECTIONS

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