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Google battles £3bn data harvesting lawsuit against iPhone users

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Google is battling a major class action in the UK, which alleges it secretly harvested browser generated data from iPhone users and sold it onto advertisers.

The class-action claim, which could see affected iPhone users receive £750 each, could cost Google up to £3bn.

But the search firm’s representative Anthony White has argued in the Supreme Court that that lawsuit could only seek redress if the data breaches were proven to have caused the clients damage: “It is not my case that loss of personal data may not have serious consequences, but it may not always do so in a way that attracts compensation,” he said.

The campaign group Google You Owe Us, wants to bring the representative action on behalf of around 4.4 million people in England and Wales. It claims Google “illegally misused the data of millions of iPhone users”, through the “clandestine tracking and collation” of information about internet usage on iPhones’ Safari browser – known as the “Safari workaround”. It claimed that the information collected includes data on racial or ethnic origin, physical and mental health, political affiliations or opinions, sexual interests and social class.

Former Which? director Richard Lloyd, who supports the campaign group, said: “Global technology companies are not above the law – no matter where they are. It is their legal duty to use our data appropriately and to keep it safe.”

“Google illegally misused the data of millions of iPhone users without consent and we want to hold them to account. The UK Supreme Court will have to decide two important points of law: what kinds of damages can be recovered by consumers for data breaches and when representative actions can be brought to recover those damages. Google makes billions of pounds in revenue from advertising based on our personal data every year. It is only right that they should be held to account for profiting from the misuse of that personal data.”

Julian Copeman, a partner at legal experts Herbert Smith Freehills said that if the judgment goes in favour of the claimants, “the floodgates” could open to a wave of other class action cases in the UK.

The “opt out” lawsuit automatically includes individuals who are affected unless they specifically choose not to be part of the case. But critics of such actions claim they could see lead to a rise in cases without merit that yield big days for litigators and their funders. Proponents argue it allows cases to be brought against large firms where the payout wouldn’t be large enough to be worth pursuing from a single individual.

Google has reported its Q1 earnings this week showing that ad sales surged 32 per cent from the same time last year to nearly $45bn (£25bn). It is the third quarter of accelerating ad growth for the firm following an unprecedented 8 per cent decline in Q2 last year as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.

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