Google has scored a major legal victory in the UK, courtesy of the Supreme Court. The country’s highest court threw out a claim seeking damages over the company’s alleged tracking of iPhones.
Lord Justice Leggatt said the prosecution could not prove the damage caused to individuals by Google’s data collection practices. However, the judge didn’t rule out the possibility of future lawsuits provided the claimants can calculate the overall damages.
“The claimant seeks damages… for each individual member of the represented class without attempting to show that any wrongful use was made by Google of personal data relating to that individual,” the judgment said (via).
“Without proof of these matters, a claim for damages cannot succeed,” the judge went on to say.
Google said it is building tools that “respect and protect people’s privacy”
The judge said that the case could have a “chance of success” if the petitioner claims damages as an individual instead of a mass action lawsuit.
Google defended its position by saying it has continually worked on “building products and infrastructure that respect and protect people’s privacy.”
The case has been ongoing since 2017 at UK’s lower courts. It was set in motion by Richard Lloyd, former director of the consumer rights group known as Which?
The original lawsuit said that Google illegally collected data via cookies on Apple’s Safari web browser even with the “do not track” setting enabled. The company reportedly collected sensitive data on metrics like race, ethnicity, health, finance, and sexuality between 2011 and 2012.
Lloyd wanted Google to pay compensation of £3.2 billion ($4.3 billion) to roughly 4.4 million users. A potential fine could have surpassed billions, while each iPhone owner may have received a small chunk of the payout. Lloyd expressed disappointment with the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“Although the court once gain recognised that our action is the only practical way that millions of British people can get access to fair redress,” he said.
“They’ve slammed the door shut on this case by ruling that everyone affected must go to court individually.”
While the Supreme Court recommends filing suits individually, experts say this may not be financially feasible for everyone. The door is now partially open for further privacy lawsuits against Google. So this may not be the last we hear of such cases. This case has already been through the High Court as well as the Court of Appeal. It ultimately reached the UK Supreme Court.