A new consumer campaign called "Google You Owe Us" is launching a class action against the web giant over allegedly unlawfully harvesting the browsing histories of iPhone users without their permission.
A group of at least 5.4 million affected consumers could be owed hundreds of pounds each in compensation, according to Richard Lloyd, former Which? executive director and Government adviser, who is spearheading the action.
If successful the case would be the biggest compensation bill ever paid to British consumers over improper use of data. A claim by 5.4 million people for £500 each would result in a £2.7 bn payout for Google.
Between June 2011 and February 2012, it is alleged that Google unlawfully harvested the personal information of millions of people in the UK by bypassing the default privacy settings on the Apple iPhone. Google’s algorithms allowed them to trick people's iPhones into releasing personal data from the phone’s default browser, Safari. This has become known as the ‘Safari Workaround’.
Mr Lloyd and legal experts believe this was against the law because it breached Section 4 of the Data Protection Act 1998. Under Section 13 of the Act individuals can claim compensation for breaches of the Act.
Lawyers at Mishcon de Reya have served Google with legal papers and the case is expected to appear in the High Court next year. If the class action is successful consumers will be able to sign up to claim a fixed amount of compensation via an online form.
Mr Lloyd said: “I believe that what Google did was quite simply against the law. Their actions have affected millions, and we’ll be asking the courts to remedy this major breach of trust.
"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 if our laws are broken.
"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.
"That’s why I’ve taken on one of the biggest fights of my life in representing this legal action, which is the first case of its kind in the UK against a major tech company for misusing our valuable personal data."
Peter Vicary-Smith, chief Executive at Which?, said: "People have to put their trust in big companies like Google because they increasingly play a large role in our everyday lives. To have this good faith rewarded by Google taking advantage of people's information without their consent is something that rightly must be challenged.
"This welcome campaign should empower consumers by bringing the issue into the spotlight and enabling those affected to rightly seek collective compensation."
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