A group of iPhone users who sued Google for allegedly illegally collecting their private information for advertising in 2011 and 2012 has filed an appeal after their claim was blocked by the High Court.
The group, which calls itself Google You Owe Us, wanted £750 per person included in the civil class action suit, which is over 4 million people. That's because it includes anyone who was resident in England or Wales on the relevant dates, had an iPhone, used Safari with the default security settings and didn't opt out of Google ad tracking. Which is a lot of people. (You can opt out of the claim if you fit the criteria and don't want to be included, and you also have to formally sign up if the suit is successful and you want your share of the money).
The lawsuit alleged that Google had collected sensitive information about users, including things like their race, financial situation, shopping habits, political opinions, class, sexuality, and more. Google denied this, claiming that the only information these cookies collected was aggregated data and couldn't be used to identify any of the individual users.
The class action case is led by Richard Lloyd, formerly director of Which?, and was dismissed by Justice Warby of the High Court in October. Justice Warby said the suit – which relates to a workaround Google used in order to effectively place tracking cookies without users' consent – had failed to prove that the class members had suffered any damages as a result of Google's actions.
Justice Warby also said that it'd be tricky to work out how many people were actually affected, and that would take up "a considerable amount of court time" for compensation that would be "modest at best" (maybe £750 is modest to you, moneybags, but that'd buy a new iPhone for the claimants).
However, while Justice Warby did agree that Google had breached its duty and was indeed in the wrong, he stated that "the main beneficiaries of any award by the end of this litigation would be the funders and the lawyers by a considerable margin." Additionally, he said the claimants didn't all have similar interests in the case, in other words a lot of the people affected didn't seem to care about the breach.
Clearly, Google You Owe Us is not backing down, and have now filed their appeal to have the case reconsidered. Here's Lloyd's statement:
"Google’s business model is based on using personal data to target adverts to consumers and they must ask permission before using this data. The court accepted that people did not give Google permission to use their data in this case, yet slammed the door shut on holding Google to account.
By appealing this decision, we want to give affected consumers the opportunity to get the compensation they are owed and show that collective actions offer a clear route to justice for data protection claims."
The appeal will aim to establish that the claimants did indeed suffer damages, and that they are interested in the case, using evidence including the 20,000 people who've apparently signed up for updates about the case. However, 20,000 in 4.4 million is... not a great ratio.
Still, a similar case succeeded in the US, so there is hope. We'll keep a tracking cookie on the suit and let you know what happens.