British Judge Rules Google Can Be Sued In UK Over Privacy Case

from the setting-precedents dept

The battle over online privacy, and how personal data should be treated as it moves over the Internet, is being fought between the US and EU points of view in multiple ways. There is the EU's Data Protection Regulation, currently grinding its way through the legislative process; there are the discussions about the NSA's spying program, and how it impacts Europeans; and finally, there are various court cases involving US companies and the personal data of EU citizens. One of these is in the UK, where The Telegraph reports that an important decision has been handed down:
The High Court ruled on Thursday that Google can be sued by a group of Britons over an alleged breach of privacy, despite the company being based in the US and claiming that the case was not serious enough to fall under British jurisdiction.

Google faced a group action by users of Apple's Safari browser who were angered by the way their online habits were apparently tracked against their wishes in order to provide targeted advertising. But because Google is based in the US they needed to seek the court's permission to bring the case in the UK, something which the search company claimed was inappropriate.

That claim has now been thrown out, as Mr Justice Tugendhat, sitting at London's High Court, ruled that the UK courts were the "appropriate jurisdiction" to try the claims.
Google has said it will appeal, so it's too early to tell what the impact of the UK court's decision will be. But if it is allowed to stand, it will create a hugely important precedent for future legal actions against US companies providing services involving the handling of personal data in the EU.

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Reader Comments (rss)

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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Jan 24th, 2014 @ 4:09pm

    Let's hope ends the fiction of multi-national corporations not being subject and liable in any given country.

    Sheesh. This one is more blatant than that Megaupload should be immune because didn't have a US address at which to be served papers. How could it possibly be otherwise when a corporation does business in UK with UK users? Only a rabid corporatist could possibly think it should be exempt from local law.

    But it's been successful dodging taxes (and this is just one scam of many: it has over $50 billion offshore untaxed):

    Google and the £6billion Bermuda tax shelter: Web giant's haven revealed as Cameron urges global crackdown

    Google funnelled an astonishing £6billion through the tax haven of Bermuda in a year – while paying just 0.1 per cent of that amount in British corporation tax.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2255850/Google-6billion-Bermuda-tax-shelter-Web-giants-h aven-revealed-Cameron-urges-global-crackdown.html

    Advocating that The Rich be free from taxes is in effect to advocate that everyone else be enslaved.

    12:08:49[n-65-4]

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 24th, 2014 @ 4:10pm

    Can they sue the NSA next?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    silverscarcat (profile), Jan 24th, 2014 @ 4:12pm

    Re:

    Isn't Dailymail completely notorious for not being a reliable news source? You know, as bad as Fox News?

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    S. T. Stone, Jan 24th, 2014 @ 4:14pm

    Re: Let's hope ends the fiction of multi-national corporations not being subject and liable in any given country.

    Advocating that The Rich be free from taxes is in effect to advocate that everyone else be enslaved.

    So…how do we apply that logic to copyright?

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 24th, 2014 @ 4:26pm

    if a company is happy doing business in a country other than where it's head office is, it should still be governed by the laws of that country. if it doesn't want to be under local law, it shouldn't do business there. seems reasonably straight forward to me.
    you have to think back a ways to find out where this started and who it was, but i'll bet you a dime to a dollar it was the USA. it wanted to make it's own companies exempt from local laws, taxes and prosecution, but when the shoe was on the other foot, it wanted to force everyone to abide by USA laws
    you cant have it just one way and like so many selfish, greedy moves by USA companies and courts, it's now come back to haunt us! tough shit then! if you dont want to get burnt, keep out of the cookhouse!!

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 24th, 2014 @ 4:36pm

    Re:

    The problem with this line of thinking is that the Internet is borderless. Anyone on the Internet is accessible to anyone in the world with Internet and they don't even need to intentionally seek out people outside of their country. With traditional business, a company must intentionally "opt-in" to do business in a country, but with the Internet a company is always doing business with every country unless they "opt-out". Yes it's easy to say "Google should be doing this, this and this" because they're a large corporation but court rulings and laws need to be careful that they do not inadvertently make things worse for smaller businesses or the self-employed.

     

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  7.  
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    kenichi tanaka (profile), Jan 24th, 2014 @ 4:36pm

    When Google is targeting EU citizens, it should then be governed by the laws in the EU. It's as simple as that. Just what did Google think it was doing? Violating the privacy rights of EU citizens and then hiding behind the protection of US laws?

     

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  8.  
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    avideogameplayer, Jan 24th, 2014 @ 4:46pm

    Users of Apple's Safari...

    Users of Apple...

    Who is Apple's biggest competitior at the moment? Google...

    Is this a legit complaint or is Apple trying to knock Google down a notch?

    Hmmm...

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 24th, 2014 @ 5:11pm

    Re: Re:

    "The problem with this line of thinking is that the Internet is borderless"

    the problem is some people wrongly think the internet is borderless. It is not.

    It is in the border of whatever country it is in, If Google is operating within Brittan it is within those borders, if operating in America it is within those borders.

    If you are within any borders, you are required to abide by the laws of that country.
    Anyone does have access to the internet, but you do not cross some border when you do it, you remain right where you are.

    Its simply not a borderless internet, it is a border FULL internet. Thinking otherwise is really a stupid argument.

    Its not borderless, nor is it lawless.

    not to mention this case is about Google spying on people against their will (and fighting for the right to continue).

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 24th, 2014 @ 5:15pm

    Re: Re:

    In this case the internal sharing between Google+, Youtube, Google proper and their ad agency has already been found illegal in other countries. Small companies are unlikely to be affected by these specific information handling issues across platforms.

    Google has a major problem with data treatment. It should be obvious that the problem is a political hot potato as well and even more regulation will hit them. On the issues of handling of data I believe they deserve what is incoming...

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 24th, 2014 @ 5:22pm

    Re: did not realise applesearch was so popular

    oh that's right its not, Google is a advertising/spying company, not a 'software or tech company', it uses tech, and software, but it makes its money from advertising and scooping up huge piles of data to focus advertising. (and gimmicks).

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 24th, 2014 @ 5:33pm

    Re: Re: Let's hope ends the fiction of multi-national corporations not being subject and liable in any given country.

    blue and logic? does not compute...

     

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  13.  
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    Sheogorath (profile), Jan 24th, 2014 @ 6:02pm

    Data Protection Act

    I reckon the plaintiffs in this case can go on to sue Google under the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) if it's settled (one way or another) without prejudice. In the DPA, there's at least one section that Google is clearly in violation of, and the judge was correct to say this case could be heard in the UK since it's UK users of Chrome that were affected by the company's deliberate ignorance of those users' desires not to have potentially sensitive data about them being sold to third parties. Now I'm just waiting for the day I can sync my Gmail account to my phone without my searches being tracked.

     

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  14.  
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    Paraquat (profile), Jan 24th, 2014 @ 6:05pm

    Should Google be a charity?

    I would certainly agree that if Google does business in the UK, then UK courts should have jurisdiction over any of the company's activities there. Google's lawyers were definitely reaching if they thought this tactic would work.

    That having been said, the case against Google seems like utter nonsense. If anyone feels that targeting advertising is a violation of their privacy, then they shouldn't use Google, or Yahoo, or Bing, or most search engines.

    Google makes its money from advertising - that's hardly a secret. Should Google be a charity? If so, then who is going to pay for their servers? Seems like a lot of people have a real sense of entitlement.

    Iif you really demand "the right" to use Google (and even Gmail) and not be subjected to the horrors of targeting advertising, trying turning off cookies and Javascript in your browser - you will no longer see pop-ups and many pages will load faster. Your browsing experience might be less colorful and convenient, but I think you'll survive.

     

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  15.  
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    Rapnel (profile), Jan 24th, 2014 @ 6:28pm

    Re: Should Google be a charity?

    Yeah, basically. People have three choices for using services that track..

    1. Use it and STFU
    2. Use it and take your own countermeasures (plentiful options)
    3. Don't use it
    (sorry four, 4. Be Blue and go through life as a self-righteous asshat.)

     

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  16.  
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    Sheogorath (profile), Jan 24th, 2014 @ 6:52pm

    Re: Should Google be a charity?

    The problem with that is Google allows you to actually opt out of targeted advertising while signed in, but you have to sign out if you want to stop them tracking you and collecting that data, which includes my potentially personally identifying IP address. This fucks with my ability to receive emails on my phone. A couple of other things, turning off JavaScript is quite literally not an option with mobile browsers, it's either default on or default off with no way for the user to change the default behaviour. I have Opera Mini, which doesn't allow JavaScript. And as for cookies, I need certain ones and you can't selectively delete or turn them on or off. Now don't say "use a better computer than a smartphone". Don't you think I would if I had any choice?

     

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  17.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Jan 24th, 2014 @ 6:54pm

    Google did wrong

    The thing is Google did do a bad thing here. They deliberately subverted active privacy measures that Safari took to protect the user's privacy.

    That's pretty damned bad.

    If what Google says is true, that they only did it to store operational data for signed-in users and weren't actually collecting it in an advertising or spying sense, that's a mitigating factor. But it's still pretty damned bad.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 24th, 2014 @ 7:42pm

    And this is why the US is pushing so hard on corporate sovereignty, so US companies can sue other governments for their pants when things like this happen.

    Don't know what it is worse crazy governments or crazy companies(no, not talking about Google here).

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 24th, 2014 @ 8:27pm

    Re: Should Google be a charity?

    but even if you don't use google they track you , there is no opt out from google that actually 100% works. and if you do manage to find that opt out page you can't access it unless you have a google account.. instead you have to constantly monitor for trackers and install software to keep tabs on google among others .. sue them ..but get it right.

     

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  20.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Jan 24th, 2014 @ 9:01pm

    Seeing as how Google also admits and states unequivocally how it adheres to numerous Self-Regulatory frameworks ( https://www.google.co.uk/intl/en/policies/privacy/frameworks/ ) as well as doing actual commerce in trade within the member countries of these agreements (ie: UK in this instance) then Google Inc like any other organisation can and always will be liable to any statutory regulations, laws, etc within that jurisdiction.

    The USA requires it for companies doing business with it's citizens, as does every other country for the last 100 yrs under reciprocity and specific consumer, trade, privacy, tax, etc laws.

    As Apple, IBM, and even McDonalds (to name a few) have found out within places like Australia (and the UK is no different) ... the courts have always stated that if you do not want to abide by the laws of the country you are within (and being on the Internet is irrelevant) DO NOT DO BUSINESS THERE!

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 25th, 2014 @ 12:39am

    Re: Re:

    To be fair, this was reported years ago int he Guardian and the Independent, so there is corroborating evidence. However, it's not just Google alone - a lot of mega-conglomerates do this, such as GlaxoSmithKline and Universal Studios.

     

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  22.  
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    TKnarr (profile), Jan 25th, 2014 @ 1:43am

    Re: Re: Re:

    It doesn't quite work that way. I can live in California, have all my servers in California, do absolutely nothing myself that would cause me to do business in the UK, and yet you could come along and force me to do business in the UK merely by accessing my Web site. And I can't block you, because you can go through Tor or a VPN and make your IP address appear to be from anywhere in the world you want. I'd literally have to block everything and then whitelist only IP blocks known to belong to network segments physically in the United States, which I can't reliably do because that information isn't known (nobody but IBM for instance knows exactly which of their assigned netblocks is allocated to which physical facilities, assuming they even map them to physical facilities).

    The problem comes from trying to take a different view of on-line businesses vs. brick-and-mortar ones. A b&b business can't control where it's customers live, but we treat it as doing business where the business is located regardless of where the customers come from. On-line we abandon that and try to treat the business as being located wherever it's customers are, not where the business is. Why? Why not treat a b&m business as doing business wherever it's customers live instead? Because, obviously, that would cause exactly the kinds of headaches on-line businesses are subject to, and we consider those headaches unreasonable. So why do we suddenly accept them as reasonable?

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 25th, 2014 @ 1:47pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Child porn producers would move to Marshal Islands or Madagascar.
    Illegal copies of IP work would be based in Tuvalu and Western Sahara.
    Illegal drug sales would happen in Sao Tome and Principe and Papua New Guinea.

    You see where I am going?
    Forum shopping for countries with particularly lax laws against your crime of choice would be easy. It has some resemblance to tax evasion where people move money around the world to avoid taxes...

    You need truely international laws against these things, you need working governments and you need international cooperation to pull the thing about free place of residence off and so far it is not even close to feasible.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 25th, 2014 @ 8:35pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    its not the issue of 'him coming to you' he did not 'come to you' You were already there, if you have a web site (in the US) but are advertising your sales, and making your sales available to other countries, you have the responsibility to abide by the law of that country when you trade with that person.

    Its not the fact he came to your web site, or that you cannot block him from doing so, its the fact you chose to make a sale with him, as such you are doing business in that country (you could of said, sorry we don't trade with GB), but if you make the trade, you are a trader, and as such liable for the laws of the countries you trade with. (as well as your own), you are liable for the laws where you operate, not just the laws of where you are based.

    Trade in Brittan, and accept their laws and rules, trade from the US accept their laws and rules as well.

    you are liable for both, and not exempt from either.

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 25th, 2014 @ 8:50pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    "However, it's not just Google alone - a lot of mega-conglomerates do this, such as GlaxoSmithKline and Universal Studios."

    oh, so that makes it ok then ! OK...

     

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  26.  
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    RonKaminsky (profile), Jan 26th, 2014 @ 9:20am

    Bye, bye, net...

    So, by your logic, if there exist two countries in the world with Internet access but mutually contradictory laws, no Internet sites are legal?

    That sounds practical...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    Marcin, Jan 27th, 2014 @ 1:56am

    Re:

    Funny how they want google to be sued while GCHQ is doing more than NSA in America....

     

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  28.  
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    I'm_Having_None_Of_It, Jan 27th, 2014 @ 6:38am

    Re: Re:

    Ha ha! You're joking, right?

    Are you one of those conspiracy theory chappies who honestly believes in a British conspiracy to take back America? Dear me! ROFL!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    Clownius, Jan 30th, 2014 @ 4:19am

    Simple answer

    if your material is server off physical hardware inside a countries borders your required to follow their laws. Anything else is a clusterfuck

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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