A group of Internet users has launched a landmark privacy case against Google for undermining the security settings on Apple’s Safari browser, in order to track online usage covertly. 
In the first case of its kind in the UK, a number of people with concerns about Google’s behaviour have decided to take action and are forming a campaigning group called Safari Users against Google’s Secret Tracking.
They have instructed the law firm, Olswang, to co-ordinate the claims and are marking Data Privacy Day on 28 January by launching a Facebook page to provide information to the many other people who might also have been affected.
The claims centre around tracking cookies, which had been secretly installed by Google on the computers and mobile devices of people using Apple’s Safari Internet browser.
The first claimant to issue proceedings, 74-year-old Judith Vidal-Hall, says: “Google claims it does not collect personal data but doesn’t say who decides what information is ‘personal’. Whether something is private or not should be up to the Internet surfer, not Google. We are best placed to decide, not them.”
Through its DoubleClick adverts, Google designed a code to circumvent privacy settings in order to deposit the cookies on computers. to provide user-targeted advertising. The claimants thought that cookies were being blocked on their devices because of Safari’s strict default privacy settings and separate assurances being given by Google at the time. This was not the case.
The practice was only stopped when an academic researcher noticed Google’s activity and published an expose in the United States. Google was subsequently found to be in violation of an existing order from the US Federal Trade Commission and was fined a record $22,5-million.
Olswang say that this action breached their clients’ confidence and privacy and are now seeking damages, disclosure and an apology from the company.
“Google has a responsibility to consumers and should be accountable for the trust placed in them. We hope that they will take this opportunity to give Safari users a proper explanation about what happened, to apologise and, where appropriate, compensate the victims of their intrusion,” says Dan Tench, a partner at Olswang.