Back in 2012, Google had to pay $22.5 million to settle an FTC claim that the company “misrepresented to users of Apple Inc.’s Safari Internet browser that it would not place tracking cookies or serve targeted ads to those users . . .” The company bypassed Safari’s cookie-blocking settings, it said, to deliver a “signed-in” user experience.
According to Google, it “used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled,” adding that “advertising cookies do not collect personal information.” Critics took a more skeptical view.
It seems that history is repeating it self in the UK, as it is again the subject of a class action lawsuit. The potential UK class includes 5.4 million people who owned iPhones between June 2011 and February 2012. This potential liability in the matter could exceed $1 billion, which is much higher than the settlement in the US action.
The UK lawsuit is being framed as a privacy case about the “misuse of personal data.” To Google, the company believes that the suit is meritless and and has decided to contest it.
The group who is pursuing the case, called “Google You Owe Us,” made the following statements about the case, calling it a “representative action” in the UK:
We believe that Google took millions of iPhone users’ personal information illegally in 2011 and 2012. Google did this by bypassing default privacy settings on the iPhone’s Safari browser . . .
We want to ensure that big companies like Google respect our privacy in the future. Our personal information is valuable and it must be used it in a way that is trustworthy and fair.
In a broader context, this case can be seen as European privacy complaints against US internet companies. Google and Facebook have been heavy subjects of numerous complaints in different countries.
Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation will come in May, and will create new, strict privacy rules and significant potential liability for companies who fail to comply or violate its provisions.