The outcome of yesterday’s mass action lawsuit against Google before the UK’s Supreme Court, seeking billions of pounds in damages, for the alleged illegal privacy invasion through the tracking of iPhones, is not quite the triumph Google might claim. The Court held that a mere collection of data is not an invasion of privacy – so the mass claim could not proceed – a finding that might look to benefit the world’s biggest data collection engine.
However, in reaching its decision, the UK’s Supreme Court found the claimant Lloyd (on behalf of 4 million others), had failed to prove an infringement of privacy law arising from the mere collection of data. Put simply – it wasn’t clear that the setting of third-party cookies by Google involved any invasion of privacy contrary to law.
This is something campaigning coalition Movement for an Open Web (MOW) itself argues as Google now seeks to claim “third-party cookies invade privacy” to force businesses to use first-party data strategies and its own technology. MOW’s point is that Google is just trying to rig the system to its own benefit against its competitors.
While the Supreme Court was not convinced there was a breach of privacy disclosed by the claim that third-party cookies invade privacy, Google now claims they do. The company’s ‘Privacy Sandbox’ software seeks to block third-party cookies and interfere with other features of the web. This doesn’t reduce Google’s data collection but simply requires businesses that rely on data for advertising to obtain it via Google. Increased dependence on Google is good for Google but restricts competition.
“The court’s verdict has found there is nothing intrinsically bad about businesses collecting data” said James Rosewell, director of MOW. “It also brings into question Google’s justifications for the Privacy Sandbox”
Richard Lloyd, a former director of consumer group Which? had hoped to launch a US-style class action against the search engine on behalf of about 4 million iPhone users. But the court, led by Lord Leggatt, concluded that the action would be unlikely to succeed because the basic issue that a breach of privacy law had not been made out on the facts for one claimant let alone all of them.
MOW said it was increasingly confident of moves by competition regulators in different jurisdictions to stop Google and other ‘Big Tech’ to control the web or rig competition being upheld by the courts. It pointed to the Google loss, also yesterday, of an appeal in the EU General Court against a €2.42 bn fine for using its own comparison-shopping service to gain an unfair advantage over smaller European rival services as a pivotal moment. The Court agreed that Google was dominant in search and had unfairly rigged the ranking system with the aim of excluding smaller competitors.
“This should encourage Google to reconsider what it’s doing, and work to create a genuine level playing field for all,” said Rosewell. “We’re here to help them.”
Google is facing further anti-trust lawsuits in the EU and US, and in the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority is this month finalizing its investigation and recommendations regarding the company’s proposed Privacy Sandbox.
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About Movement for an Open Web (MOW): https://movementforanopenweb.com