Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) has lost out on an important privacy battle in the United Kingdom after a Court of Appeal ruling upheld the right of UK residents to file lawsuits against Google for Google’s tracking of Safari browser data. In 2012, news had surfaced about Google violating the privacy rights of users of the Safari web browser.
Apple’s Safari browser which comes as a default on Apple’s devices provides greater security when it comes to usage history. This higher security setting meant that Google wasn’t able to place its cookies in user’s devices to track their internet usage in order to generate fruitful and actionable data for advertisers. However, a small loophole in Safari, which Google labeled as a ‘known functionality’, allowed Google to place cookies in user’s Apple devices in an underhand manner.
Google did it by inserting code into its ads that made Safari believe that its user had filled out a form on a webpage, even though the users had not done so. This step made the browser believe that a tracking cookie can be initiated on its devices. This tracking method is not allowed by default on Safari and a user has to opt-in for the same.
After the cookie had been thus placed, it was used to enable tracking by Google, which allowed user data to be monitored and collected. This data was then compiled and provided to advertising networks such as PointRoll, Vibrant Media and the Media Innovation Group. This surreptitious collection of data had alarmed privacy enthusiasts to the creeping and unsolicited tracking by Google. However, at that time, Google and other advertising networks had defended this practice by claiming that this ‘tracking’ was based on a ‘known functionality’ and there was nothing that was illegally accessed.
However, the Court of Appeal did not agree with the same. The Appeals court upheld the right of trial for those whose privacy was violated by Google. The court stated that the case merited a trial as it was a ‘secret and blanket tracking and collation of information, often of an extremely private nature’.
This decision by the Court has also expanded the ambit of privacy jurisdiction by adding a new pedestal on which privacy infringement related claims can be found. Earlier, the aggrieved parties resorted to ‘breach of confidence’ to stake their claims of privacy infringement. The lack of a common law of torts that explicitly recognized the right to privacy also posed a challenge for UK citizens who faced even more novel forms of privacy violations. The Court, by deciding that Google’s tracking and collation of user’s information amounted to ‘misuse of private information’ will surely help develop the scope of privacy rights that may be enjoyed by a UK citizen.
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