Google loses UK bid to block Safari cookie privacy case

Google will appeal the case

Google lost a bid to block a privacy lawsuit in the U.K. over alleged unauthorized placement of cookies on devices running Apple's Safari browser when the U.K. High Court ruled on Thursday that the case falls within the scope of the country's jurisdiction.

A group of U.K. Internet privacy activists have sued Google for allegedly circumventing the security settings in Safari in order to plant a cookie used to covertly track online usage and deliver targeted ads, according to information in the court's ruling. By tracking and collating data without the plaintiffs' consent or knowledge between the summer of 2011 and February 2012, Google misused private information and acted in breach of confidence and statutory duties under the country's Data Protection Act, the plaintiffs argued.

Google however said that, in this case, it should not be sued in the U.K. because the country's privacy laws don't apply to it, according to information in the ruling, which has been published by the plaintiffs. Instead, Google said, the plaintiffs should sue the company in California, where it is based.

The High Court decided otherwise, saying that there was a "serious issue to be tried" in each of the plaintiff's claims for misuse of private information. "The claimants have clearly established that this jurisdiction is the appropriate one," wrote justice Michael George Tugendhat, who noted that Google did not argue that it can never be sued under the U.K. jurisdiction and accepts that in some cases it can be.

Judith Vidal-Hall, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement that she was delighted that Google will have to answer questions in open court.

"We want to know how Google came to ignore user preferences to track us online," Vidal-Hall said. 

"We want to know how long they have done this for, what they've done with our private data, how much they have made from this, and why they keep flouting privacy laws," she said. She added that the case is about protecting the privacy rights of all Internet users who use software from a company that virtually has a monopoly product.

The activists will now step up their action against Google, they said, adding that they will launch a new broader campaigning group to draw attention to the company's behavior.

Meanwhile Google will appeal the High Court's ruling, a company spokesman said in an emailed statement. "We still don't think that this case meets the standards required in the U.K. for it to go to trial," he said, adding that a case almost identical to this one was dismissed in its entirety three months ago in the U.S.

In October, a federal judge threw out a class action lawsuit against Google, ruling that the users who brought the case could not prove that Google's tracking practices caused them harm, the Wall Street Journal reported at the time.

In November though, Google settled a case for US$17 million that was brought by U.S. state attorneys who accused the company of circumventing cookie-blocking defaults in the Safari browser. In August 2012, Google also paid a $22.5 million civil penalty to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for Safari tracking violations.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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