Google could be forced to pay up to £3 billion in compensation to iPhone users following allegations it secretly tracked millions of users.
As many as four million iPhone users in England and Wales could be affected, who could be owed payouts of £750 each if the firm loses the cases.
Secretly collecting data?
The landmark case against the search engine went before judges at the Supreme Court this week, and centres on claims the firm secretly monitored the online activity of millions of iPhone users in England and Wales.
The class action is being brought forward by Richard Lloyd, a former director of consumer group Which?, who alleges that Google ‘cookies’ collected information on 4.4 million iPhone users who used the Safari web browser between 2011 and 2012.
Mr Lloyd claims the technology company gathered data on user’s health, race, ethnicity, sexuality and political affiliations, even though they had selected a ‘do not track’ privacy setting.
It has also been claimed that this information was then used to group people into categories for advertising purposes.
However, Google’s lawyers say there is no suggestion the so-called Safari workaround resulted in any information being disclosed to third parties.
Lloyd, who is backed by campaign group Google You Owe Us, hopes to win between £1 billion and £3 billion in compensation for alleged breaches of the Data Protection Act.
In a statement before the hearing, Mr Lloyd said: “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.”
Taken to the Supreme Court
The case was initially dismissed by the High Court after it ruled that it was too difficult to calculate the amount of people who had been affected, or whether they had suffered losses.
This decision was later overturned in 2019 by the Court of Appeal and the case has now been escalated to the Supreme Court.
Antony White QC told the court that “a number of substantial representative actions have been commenced seeking compensation for breach of data protection rights” since the Court of Appeal’s judgment.
Claims “brought on behalf of hundreds of thousands, and, at least in one case, millions, of individuals” have also recently been launched against Facebook, TikTok and Google-owned YouTube, the court heard.
Mr White said, in written submissions, that allowing such claims to be brought could have “profound and far-reaching implications across all civil litigation”.
He argued that, under data protection laws, “compensation is only available for ‘damage’ suffered as a consequence of the (data) breach, and not for the breach itself”.
A Google spokeswoman said: “These claims relate to events that took place a decade ago and that we addressed at the time. We look forward to making our case in court.”