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Google sued for £3.2bn by 4.4m iPhone users over browsing data collection

Joseph Archer
The claimants say that Google used an algorithm that allowed developers to track a user’s browsing history and collect which bypassed the default settings of Apple’s Safari browser. - AFP

Google is facing a potential payout of up to £3.2bn over claims it collected data on millions of iPhone users, the search giant has revealed.

The group representing iPhone users, known as Google You Owe Us, represents 4.4 million people in a class action law suit which is taking action against the tech company, according to documents filed at High Court on Monday.

The claim, led by former Which? director Richard Lloyd, says Google unlawfully collected people’s personal information by evading Apple’s iPhone default privacy settings.

They claim this took place between August 2011 and February 2012 to divide people into categories for advertisers.

The group told the court that data collected included race, physical and mental health, political leanings, sexuality, social class, financial, shopping habits and location data.

Google, who is headed up by chief executive Sundar Pichai, said in court documents that the group think each individual could receive £750 if the case is successful. Credit: Manu Fernandez

Google said in court documents that the group think each individual could receive £750 if the case is successful, according to Bloomberg. However, potential damages are still to be determined.

The California-based company denies the allegations and argued at the hearing that the dispute doesn’t belong in a London court.

The group is seeking permission to hear the case as a "representative action", arguing that all the customers share the same interests.

They claim that Google used an algorithm that allowed developers to track a user’s browsing history and collect which bypassed the default settings of Apple’s Safari browser, which blocked third-party tracking via cookies.

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Anthony White QC, for Google, said the purpose of Lloyd’s claim was to “pursue a campaign for accountability and retribution” against the company, rather than seek compensation for affected individuals.

White said: “The court should not permit a single person to co-opt the data protection rights of millions of individuals for the purpose of advancing a personal ‘campaign’ agenda and should not allow them to place the onus on individuals who do not wish to be associated with that campaign to take positive steps to actively disassociate themselves from it.”

A Google spokesman said: "The privacy and security of our users are extremely important to us. This case relates to events that took place over six years ago and that we addressed at the time. We believe it has no merit and should be dismissed. We've filed evidence in support of that view and look forward to making our case in Court."