Taking a Bite of the Forbidden Fruit: Google Case Goes to the Supreme Court

May 15, 2021

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Consumer rights group Which? has accused Google of illegally tracking millions of iPhone users in a landmark case.

What does this mean?

It is alleged that during 2011 and 2012, Google used Apple’s Safari browser to collect special category data such as health, ethnicity, and sexuality from 4.4m users. This was done regardless of the users’ privacy settings. 

The case brought before the Supreme Court on Wednesday 28 April 2021 is not the claim itself. Instead, judges are being asked to determine the legitimacy of the action. Richard Lloyd, the former director of Which? is attempting to represent all of those whose data was illegally tracked in a first-of-its-kind opt-out case. 

The UK operates an opt-in policy when it comes to class action lawsuits, whereby claimants are expected to proactively choose to be involved in a case. If this case is won, it will set a precedent allowing one individual to bring the action, thereby hastening the legal process. This will not only deliver justice faster but will save time and money. The Consumer Rights Act 2012 allows for opt-out class-action suits to be filed for private competition litigation.

What's the big picture effect?

The High Court originally dismissed this case due to the complexities involved in determining the number of people affected and the level of harm they suffered because of the breach. Following this, the Court of Appeal ruled that this action was a suitable way to seek redress for data breaches of this scale, adapting to the new age of technology, for which many laws are considered unsuitable.

Google’s representatives, TechUK, argue that allowing this case would open the floodgates to mass litigation. This would not only cause great pressure on the court system itself, taking more time and money but would also impose upon a defendant indeterminate liability. Mr Lloyd however, emphasises the importance of providing consumers with “access to justice when their rights are abused by global tech giants”. 

Interestingly, Google has already paid $22.5m in damages in the US for the same reason. They described the incident as “inadvertent”. How such an accident was allowed to happen twice by such a prestigious company that has become a household name is a mystery. Add this to the formation of the tech giants’ first labor union earlier this year, Google is going to have to take great steps to avoid a reputational crisis. With their rival Bing’s market share rising by 41.03% since 2019, it could be argued that Google’s monopoly is already wavering, with its market share dropping by 3.35% over the same period.

The Supreme Court ruling of this case will affect many class-action lawsuits, for example, the former Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield has recently launched a case against TikTok on behalf of millions of youngsters. The case criticises the lack of transparency in how the video-sharing app collects and uses data. Data breaches are becoming an increasingly common issue in the law today and it will be interesting to see how legislation develops and adapts to modern times.

Report written by Lauren Kent

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