Google is disputing a lawsuit brought by UK-based Apple users whose browser habits were slurped – without permission – by the ad giant. Mountain View claims that Britain's data protection laws do not apply to it as British courts have "no jurisdiction" over the company.
Owners of Apple devices who used Cupertino's Safari browser between September 2011 and February 2012 have put in a claim contending that Google bypassed the surfing tool's security settings to plant a temporary cookie that skimmed information from them to personalise ads.
Fanbois in the US brought successful legal action against Google last year on the same grounds. The ads giant 'fessed up to the cookie gaffe early last year after a law student and security researcher spotted the flaw in the software. Mountain View subsequently removed the tracking code that had targeted Safari.
An investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission in August last year led to a measly $22.5m fine being dished out to Google for its privacy slip-up.
The case inspired a group of Brits to open proceedings against Google in the UK.
But Google continues to insist that alleged privacy breaches in Britain do not apply to the company because its software resides in California. It has further argued that any such lawsuit should not be heard in a UK court.
Its lawyers also claim that expectations of privacy and confidentiality while using a search engine were unrealistic and that an individuals' browsing habits should not be closely protected.
One claimant in the UK case, the submission for which will be heard in October, claimed that Google was riding roughshod over Brits' rights online.
Judith Vidal-Hall said:
Google’s position on the law is the same as its position on tax: they will only play or pay on their home turf. What are they suggesting - that they will force Apple users whose privacy was violated to pay to travel to California to take action when they offer a service in this country on a .co.uk site? This matches their attitude to consumer privacy. They don’t respect it and they don’t consider themselves to be answerable to our laws on it.
According to a statement from the law firm acting for the complainants - Olswang LLC - Google declined to be served the lawsuit in the UK, instead telling claimants to serve on the multinational in California.
Another claimant in the case, Marc Bradshaw, said it was "absurd" that such a civil case can't be brought against Google "which is operating in the UK and is even constructing a $1bn headquarters in London".
He added that "fines would be useless" given how much money Google earns and urged data watchdogs to "rein in" the company.
Google has been fighting many allegations of privacy intrusion in a variety of different cases across Europe over the course of the past few years. It has regularly claimed that it is not subject to European Union privacy law because its software is developed and based in the US.
Justice commissioner for the 28-member bloc, Viviane Reding, told your correspondent in 2010 that soon the likes of Google and other US-based internet companies would no longer be able to shy away from EU legislation. Reding's proposed data protection bill is currently being scrutinised by the European Parliament.
"The [planned] law is for everyone who does business on the territory of Europe, whatever the origin of the business might be. So you cannot hide anymore by saying ‘I do not have my headquarters in Europe’," she said at the time.
Google has declined to comment on this story. ®