Google hit by privacy suit from UK Safari users

January 28, 2013 // 11:01 a.m.

Tags: #cookie #doubleclick #google #olswang #privacy #safari #targeted-advertising #tracking #tracking-cookie

Google has found itself in the crosshairs of a privacy lawsuit once again, as users of Apple's Safari web browser and its spin-offs sue the advertising giant's UK arm.

The proceedings against the company, coordinated by law firm Olswang, seek redress for Google's apparent deliberate attempt to track users of the Safari browser despite the use of a 'Do Not Track' flag within the software. While Google denied any such activity, it would later transpire that it had been - deliberately or accidentally - ignoring the flag and tracking Safari users across the web for the purpose of delivering targeted advertising, the company's majority source of income.

The tracking cookies were stored on all systems using the Safari browser regardless of privacy settings, affecting all users of Safari on Windows, OS X - where it is the default web browser - and also on Apple's iPad, iPod Touch and iPhone mobile devices. Google's actions would continue throughout 2011 and 2012, with the company's DoubleClick advertising subsidiary being directly responsible for setting the cookies in contravention of the browser's privacy settings.

Despite the issue being brought to Google's attention on numerous occasions, the company would continue to claim no wrongdoing - until a researcher published details of the tracking in the US and brought it to the attention of the Federal Trade Commission, which would fine Google a whopping $22.5 million for its actions in misrepresenting to users that it would not place tracking cookies on the computers of or serve targeted advertising to Safari users.

Now, argues Olswang on behalf of its clients, it's time for UK consumers to have a piece of the Google pie, with the law firm targeting the company for monetary damages as well as a full disclosure and public apology.

'Google has a responsibility to consumers and should be accountable for the trust placed in them,' Olswang partner Dan Tench claimed in a statement regarding the case. 'We hope that they will take this opportunity to give Safari users a proper explanation about what happened, to apologise and, where appropriate, compensate the victims of their intrusion.'

Olswang already has several clients lined up for the case, which is being coordinated under the flag of newly-formed campaigning group Safari Users Against Google's Secret Tracking. The first of these to issue proceedings against the company is Judith Vidal-Hall, a 74 year old who feels Google is failing to deliver on its 'Do No Evil' slogan. 'Google claims it does not collect personal data, but doesn't say who decides what information is "personal,"' Vidal-Hall explained. 'Whether something is private or not should be up to the internet surfer, not Google. We are best placed to decide, not them.'

Google has yet to respond to the case, which has spread to Facebook as the campaign group seeks to drum up publicity for its cause. It's slow going, however: of the millions of Safari users in the UK, fewer than 10 are thought to have contacted Olswang and the pro-action Facebook page - admittedly only launched yesterday - has gathered just 140 'Likes' at the time of writing.

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