Google Faces iPhone Privacy Lawsuit After Court Reinstates Case

By Jonathan Browning and Ellen Milligan | October 2, 2019

A U.K. lawsuit filed against Google by millions of iPhone users over data-collection claims was given the go-ahead by London appeals judges who overturned an earlier ruling that had thrown out the case.

The group, known as Google You Owe Us, were seeking as much as 3.2 billion pounds ($3.9 billion), according to documents filed with the court last year. The organization, which represents more than 4 million people, said the Alphabet Inc. unit unlawfully gathered personal information by bypassing Apple Inc.’s iPhone default privacy settings.

Led by consumer advocate Richard Lloyd, the group was given permission to hear the case as a “representative action” that is akin to a U.S. class action, after arguing that all the customers share mutual interests. The court said Lloyd had agreed to seek the “lowest common denominator” of damages, potentially lowering the value of the lawsuit.

“This case, quite properly if the allegations are proved, seeks to call Google to account for its allegedly wholesale and deliberate misuse of personal data without consent, undertaken with a view to a commercial profit,” Judge Geoffrey Vos said Wednesday in the ruling.

Google plans to seek permission from the U.K.’s highest court to appeal.

The judge said that by tracking and collecting data from users’ browsing history, Google took something of value from them. That meant all users suffered the same loss and could be counted as one group, he said. The customers had no remedy available to them but to file the litigation, Vos said.

“Today’s judgment sends a very clear message to Google and other large tech companies: you are not above the law,” Lloyd said. “Google can be held to account in this country for misusing peoples’ personal data, and groups of consumers can together ask the courts for redress.”

Google responded by saying that the case should be dismissed.

“Protecting the privacy and security of our users has always been our No. 1 priority,” a Google spokeswoman said in an email. “This case relates to events that took place nearly a decade ago and that we addressed at the time.”

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