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$1.3 billion iPhone Safari cookie suit against Google shut down by UK courts

Early Monday, London's High Court shut down a representative action —or class action —suit against Google that alleged that the company had illegally collected users' internet habits for tailored advertising purposes from 5.4 million iPhone users.

Safari icon on older iPhone



Judge Mark Warby blocked the case filed by "Google You Owe Us," saying that the claims of damage were not supported by presented facts. Additionally, the judge found it impossible to accurately calculate the number of iPhone users that may have been impacted, or to what extend they may or may not have been affected, making a fair and just ruling impossible.

The group sued Google in late 2017 over claims that the company intentionally worked around Safari security settings in 2012 that were blocking third-party tracking cookies. When the case launched in late 2017, the group claimed that as many as 5.4 million people may have been impacted.

Representative actions in the UK are relatively rare, with the group claiming this to be the first of its kind against a major tech company concerning the "alleged mass misuse of personal data." Unlike US-style class actions, the UK's representative actions do not permit "punitive" damages that can inflate the levels of compensation, and are not conducted with a jury.

Former Special Advisor to the Prime Minister Richard Lloyd helms the group. Lloyd is also a class member of the action, and representing all potential claimants, with support from law firm Mishcon de Reya.

Lloyd was originally seeking 3.2 billion pounds ($4.3 billion), but had since cut that to 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion). Reportedly, 20,000 people had already signed up for the suit, but AppleInsider was unable to confirm this number.

"Today's judgment is extremely disappointing and effectively leaves millions of people without any practical way to seek redress and compensation when their personal data has been misused," Lloyd said in a statement. "Google's business model is based on using personal data to target adverts to consumers and they must ask permission before using this data. The court accepted that people did not give permission in this case yet slammed the door shut on holding Google to account."

Google had previously paid a total of $39.5 million in the US to settle claims that it had used the "Safari Bypass" to track iPhone users' internet habits. As part of the settlement, Google promised not to override any Web browser's cookie blocking features unless first given specific consent from the user, and to provide more information to consumers on how cookies work and how to use them.

"The Safari browser contained functionality that then enabled other Google advertising cookies to be set on the browser. We didn't anticipate that this would happen, and we have now started removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers," Google said at the time. "It's important to stress that, just as on other browsers, these advertising cookies do not collect personal information."

An appeal of the UK ruling is expected.