Accessibility Links

Google's in-house lawyers could face privacy claims

Posted by: Laurence Simons 30/01/13

Ubiquitous technological powerhouse Google could find their in-house lawyers dealing with serious concerns over how the company circumvented the security settings on iPhone, iPad and Mac devices using the Safari web browser, by installing cookies to allow user-targeted advertising through its DoubleClick ad network.

The firm, which is based in California and made profits of more than £6.8 billion last year, could potentially face legal action from around ten million Britons if it is confirmed that they secretly tracked their browsing habits.

Incidentally, Google's 'unofficial motto' is 'don't be evil', a worthy sentiment that will no doubt assuage concerns that it is trampling wilfully over the concept of individual privacy and setting a dangerous precedent for technological interference in people's lives.

At least ten British iPhone users have started legal proceedings and dozens more are being lined up, according to the London-based firm Olswang, reports the Guardian.

"This is the first time Google has been threatened with a group claim over privacy in the UK," said Olswang lawyer Dan Trench.

"It is particularly concerning how Google circumvented security settings to snoop on its users. One of the things about Google is that it is so ubiquitous in our lives and if that's its approach then it's quite concerning."

One effect the case is expected to have is to drive a major increase in the number of people Googling information about Google's privacy settings, searching on Google for ways of keeping their personal data secure, and using Google to look for other popular search engines they can use.

This is far from the first time that the organisation has fallen foul of privacy legislation, having been censured for snooping on Wi-Fi users with its StreetView cars and fined a record $22.5 million (£14.4 million) in the US for further issues with its Safari application.

Following that case, Google admitted that it intentionally sidestepped security settings on the browser that blocked websites from tracking users through cookies, without warning users that their privacy levels had changed.

Alexander Hanff, a privacy campaigner working on the legal claims, told the newspaper that the motive of those involved are more to do with raising awareness than potential profits.

"This lawsuit is about sending a very clear message to corporations that circumventing privacy controls will result in significant consequences. The lawsuit has the potential of costing Google tens of millions, perhaps even breaking £100 million," he added.

With concerns over how companies cope with the high volumes of data they process coming to a head, this is unlikely to be the last controversy drummed up over security issues.