Toy telephone exchange

A bid by a group called ‘Google You Owe us’ has had its claim for compensation against Google for privacy breaches thrown out by the High Court.

Led by former Which Magazine Director Richard Lloyd, the Group claimed compensation from Google for tracking their iPhone handsets without permission for several months between 2011 and 2012. According  to the Group google used cookies to track users and get around setting in Apple’s Safari browser that that was set to block such monitoring.

The reasons for the dismissal are reported as lack of evidence that damage was suffered by those whose iPhones were tracked as well as what the judge saw as the difficulty of calculating the number of iPhone users affected. The Google You Owe US group are obviously very disappointed by the result and are considering an appeal.

Appeals in the UK are possible where the grounds are that the judge has got the law wrong. Here the judge decided on the facts that there was insufficient evidence to find a case for compensation so getting permission to appeal looks like it may be an uphill struggle. The comment made by the judge about difficultly in quantifying damage is interesting and not one that can be easily overcome. 20,000 signed up to the campaign which brought the action on their behalf and the compensation sought by the group overall was significant but identifying the damage suffered by the individuals within the Group is clearly a major issue.

We watch this one with interest for any further developments. A similar claim against Google in the US has been successful but in the US, group actions of this type are more established as a method of redress. As an alternative approach for future action it may be easier to succeed in a case where the number of complainants is limited to a handful of individuals so that for each complainant detail can be submitted as to the financial damage they have suffered as a result of the unlawful monitoring. On success, a precedent that this type of monitoring is unlawful and exposes the company doing it to a financial claim from users – and in that way providing a deterrent from behaving this way.

Meanwhile if not already on it, is there a case for our own data watchdog the ICO to take this up?

Written by Margaret Briffa