Google faces UK legal action over secret Safari tracking claims


Web giant Google could be subject to the UK's largest ever group legal challenge, following claims the firm has been snooping on Apple users' web browsing habits.

The company has been accused of circumnavigating Apple's security controls to monitor the online habits of Apple users, who access the web using the Safari browser.

The case has the potential to be the UK's largest ever group legal action.

The practice was reportedly uncovered in the US by an academic researcher, and resulted in Google being fined $22.5 million by the US Federal Trade Commission in November 2012.

In a statement to IT Pro, law firm Olswang said it has been enlisted by a group of UK Apple users to launch legal proceedings against the firm for infringing on their privacy in the same way.

"Through its DoubleClick adverts, Google designed a code to circumvent privacy settings in order to deposit cookies on computers [and] provide user-targeted advertising," said Olswang's statement.

"The claimants thought that cookies were being blocked on their devices because of Safari's strict default privacy settings...This was not the case."

The law firm claims Google's actions breached the "confidence and privacy" of its clients, who are now seeking damages and an apology from the internet search titan.

The group has also launched a Facebook group called Safari Users Against Google's Secret Tracking to raise awareness of their plight.

Alexander Hanff, an independent privacy campaigner, has been assisting the law firm with its investigation. He told IT Pro the case has the potential to be the UK's largest ever group legal action.

"It is estimated that there are approximately 10 million Safari users in the UK, so this is a very big case should even a small percentage of those users decide to join [in]," said Hanff.

"This is not about money, this is about sending a clear message to corporations like Google that failing to adhere to UK law will have consequences...and [users] will turn to the courts and litigation to hold privacy violators to account."

IT Pro approached Google, but was informed the company has no plans to comment on the action at this time.

Speaking to IT Pro, Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said the case comes as no surprise.

"This case could set a hugely important legal precedent and help consumers defend their privacy against profit-led decisions to ignore people's rights," he added.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.