A class-action suit against Google over data tracking could yield some iPhone users in the UK a whopping $1,042. The suit in question goes all the way back to 2011 and 2012 when Apple took measures to block third-party cookies in its iOS Safari browser. And seeing as how Google’s primary revenue stream comes from advertising, the search giant figured out a clever way to implement cookies without alerting users.
“Google was able to engineer a way to avoid this block, allowing it to collect data on race, physical and mental health, political leanings, sexuality, social class, financial, shopping habits and location,” The Telegraph notes.
In light of the above, Richard Lloyd filed a lawsuit against Google on behalf of all UK iPhone users impacted by Google’s roundabout cookie hack. The lawsuit was filed in 2018 and, after a few legal hurdles, was allowed to proceed via a 2019 Court of Appeal judgment.
“Stripped of its technicalities, its effect was to enable Google to set the DoubleClick Ad cookie on a device, without the user’s knowledge or consent, immediately, whenever the user visited a website that contained DoubleClick Ad content,” the court ruling read in part.
Google, naturally, argues that it shouldn’t be on the hook for any type of compensation because the privacy breach didn’t directly impact users in a financial sense. In reaching its decision, however, the court ruled that a demonstration of financial loss is not necessary for the suit to continue:
The decision has important ramifications for data protection law and also for collective proceedings. Breaches of the Data Protection Act are common place, and often inadvertent. The Court of Appeal concluded such breaches may be actionable even if the data subject has not suffered any financial loss or distress.
The potential ramifications for collective actions are, arguably, even more significant. A representative action has never previously been permitted to proceed for anything like this size of group. Further, as accepted by the Court of Appeal, the members of the group have been affected by Google’s alleged breach in different ways. The Court has concluded that, although they have been affected by the breach in different ways, they have the same interest in the claim because they are claiming the same uniform loss.
All told, Google is being taken to task for harvesting user data without permission and leveraging it for its own commercial gain.
The total number of eligible class members is around 4 million iPhone users. Nothing has been decided just yet, it’s worth noting, as the case is currently being argued before the Supreme Court. There’s no telling how the case will pan out, but the fact that Google is being taken to task will likely prevent the search giant from employing similar types of workarounds in the future.
Incidentally, Google has already paid fines to various entities like the FTC for its covert data tracking activities.