UK Privacy Watchdog Enjoined in an Appeal Against Google by Apple’s Safari Users

Safari Users against Google’s Secret Tracking received a new life line after UK’s commissioner of Information requested to be enjoined in an appeal case in which Google is seeking to prevent UK Apple’s Safari users from suing it. The group is upbeat about winning the legal battle against the search giant for incursion on their private life.

Pressure is mounting on Google to take up responsibility for tracking Apple’s safari browser users in UK. In a show of solidarity UK’s privacy watchdog, the information commissioner sought to be enjoined in a case in which Google is fighting an high court  decision to allow UK users to sue it for violating their privacy.

A group of UK Apple’s Safari users referred to as  Safari Users Against Google’s Secret Tracking, had sued Google for infringing on the private life by subverting security setting in the browsers in order to spy on their browsing habits and send personalized marketing ads.

The case be heard on Monday, will determined whether there is enough ground to hold Google liable  for alleged damages caused to 100 Britons through Google unsolicited actions.  According to Commissioner Christopher Graham, the hearing will seek to determine whether Google accessed personal information of the plaintiff and whether the damages suffered by the plaintiff could include non-monetary loss.

A ruling against Google, would see the company face endless courts battles and possibly end up paying billions of dollars in fines and damages to safari users. The case would also open up a flood gate allowing millions of Apple’s customers who were using safari browser in 2010 to sue for damages. Other companies such as Twitter & Facebook who use cookies to tack users’ keystrokes for targeting marketing ads would also be dealt a heavy blow.

In its defense, Google is seeking to have the case struck out on the grounds that it never infringed into the private life of any specific individuals as alleged by the claimant. Google insists that its cookies never collected the identities of the users, in other words tracking anonymous people is like tracking nobody at all. For this reason Google holds that “there is no serious issue to be tried” adding that the “alleged incursion into the private life” of the claimants do not meet the threshold of violation specifies in Human Right Act 1998 invoked by the claimants.

Mr. Justice Tugendhat’s High court ruling had found Google answerable to “misuse of private information”. The High court Judge rejected Google’s presumption of anonymity in collecting users’ data. To him, Google “would not collect and collate the information unless doing so enabled it to produce something of value. The value it produces is the facility for targeted advertising”. The fact the google “yields the spectacular revenues” from collecting and analyzing such was information was already a “serious issue to be tried.”

Google is upbeat on winning the tussle given that a similar case filed in a US federal court by a US Apple Safari user was dropped because the plaintiff was unable to prove harm or loss resulting from the defendant (Google) actions. “A case almost identical to this one was dismissed in its entirety in the US. We don’t think that this case meets the court’s standards required for it to be heard, which is why we are appealing it,” said Google spokesperson.

The claimants on the hand are hopeful that the UK court of appeal will rule in their favor and find Google answerable to its actions. “This is a crucial test of whether Google can be held to account in the English courts or whether there is only justice for a privacy breach where the consumer loses money,” said Dan Tench, the claimants’ attorney.

Lawrence Mwangi Lawrence is a technology and business reporter. He has freelanced for a number of tech sites and magazines. He is a web-enthusiast, with a special interest in Online security, Entrepreneurship and Innovation. When not writing about tech he can be found in a Tennis court or on a chess board.
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