Users of Safari, Apple’s internet browser, which comes installed as standard on many of the company’s products, have won the right to sue Google over issues of privacy. A Court of Appeal bid, in which Google sought to block the legal action, has ruled against the search giant.
The users in question claim that Google misused privacy settings and bypassed security features of the Safari browser for its targeted advertising campaigns. By bypassing their security settings, Google was able to install cookies to track the internet activities of users. This information was then used to guide advertising campaigns and choose which adverts would be displayed to those users based on their browsing history.
Google took the case to the Court of Appeal seeking to prevent legal action from the claimants. The company claimed that Safari users could not sue because they had suffered no financial loss as a result of the company’s actions, and therefore there was no case for Google to answer to. However, the court ruled that the claimants’ allegations “raise serious issues which merit a trial.”
Google’s defeat in the Court of Appeal was described by one of the users seeking to sue as “a David and Goliath victory.” Google, on the other hand, said that it was “disappointed with the court’s decision” to allow the claimants to bring legal action against the company.
Safari is installed as standard on the computers produced by Apple, as well as on other devices such as the popular iPad range of tablets. Allegedly, the “Safari Workaround” was utilised by Google to get around the security settings and preferences of the browser in order to install cookies – pieces of code that can track and record data – against the wishes of the users. These then gathered information about the ethnicity, social demographic, and browsing habits of those users without their knowledge or consent so that Google could more specifically target them with advertising.
According to the Court of Appeal’s judgement, the allegations against Google “concern what is alleged to have been the secret and blanket tracking and collation of information, often of an extremely private nature… and the subsequent use of that information for about nine months. The case relates to the anxiety and distress this intrusion upon autonomy has caused.”
Should the case against Google prove successful, the millions of people in the UK who use Apple devices could potentially be able to bring similar cases against the web giant.
According to one claimant, Judith Vidal-Hall, “The Court of Appeal has ensured Google cannot use its vast resources to evade English justice.” As a result, she said, “Ordinary computer users like me will now have the right to hold this giant to account before the courts for its unacceptable, immoral and unjust actions.”