Twelve iPhone users in the UK are taking on the might of search engine giant Google in a landmark court case which could pave the way for up to 10 million Britons to follow suit.
The 12 claim their online browsing habits were secretly tracked by Google and are suing for alleged privacy breaches.
They claim cookies – small tracking files used primarily by advertisers to target ads based on internet use – were installed by Google on Apple computers and mobile devices, of those using the Safari internet browser,without their knowledge.
The claimants say they believed cookies would be blocked because of assurances given by the search engine giant during the time their gizmos were said to be affected in 2011 and 2012, and because of Safari’s default settings.
Dan Tench, a partner at Olswang, which is acting for the dozen claimants, said: “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.”
One example given of the issues of cookies being used was if a person was looking on the internet for an engagement ring, their partner, if later using the same device, could find adverts for rings when they logged on.
The action has been instigated by Judith Vidal-Hall, who is the former editor of the magazine Index on Censorship. Vidal-Hall, 74, said while Google claimed it did not collect any personal data, it did not say “who decides what information is personal”.
She added: “Whether something is private or not should be up to the internet surfer, not Google. We are best placed to decide, not them.”
And Olswang believes this action could be just the tip of the iceberg. A campaign group, which is called Safari Users Against Google’s Secret Tracking has been set up on social networking site Facebook and the law firm believes this could encourage other people to come forward to take action.
So far, the group has nearly 300 members. It says it has “been set up to provide information for anyone who used the Safari internet browser between September 2011 and February 2012, and who was illegally tracked by Google.”
Although some Facebook users commenting on the group’s wall, clearly do not agree with the legal action. “Get over it,” wrote one. “You’ve been tracked for years online. It’s not worse than CCTV and everything you buy being logged against your name… Yes, it happens. Deal with it.”
New regulations concerning cookies came into force on May 26 last year. The new legislation states that website must gain “informed consent” from users before they record any detailed information in the cookies they store on visitors’ computers.
Many websites now tend to get consent through a pop-up box that explains the changes. Users are asked to click to consent to having information recorded before they enter the site.