MSE News

'Google You Owe Us' campaign wins in Court of Appeal

A consumer campaign, which launched unprecedented legal action against Google, has been given a new lease of life after a judgment today overturned a High Court decision.

The 'Google You Owe Us' group alleges that between June 2011 and February 2012, Google wrongfully obtained personal information through bypassing the default privacy settings on the iPhone. It launched legal action in November 2017, claiming millions of people in England and Wales may be affected.

Last year, High Court judge Mr Justice Warby blocked the group litigation, but now a Court of Appeal judgment has said the case can proceed.

See our Google You Owe Us Q&A from when the legal challenge was launched for more information.

Martin: 'This is just one step in the path towards redress'

Martin Lewis, founder of and member of the Google You Owe Us campaign advisory committee, said: "While this is just one step in the path towards redress for owners of iPhones back in 2011 and 2012, this Court of Appeal ruling is hugely significant for consumer protection.

"The UK has never really had class actions like those across the Atlantic. We've only really seen mass consumer redress in highly-regulated sectors – like finance, where there is a non-court authority that can dictate what must happen – or in rare cases where there is a specific law enabling it.

"Yet here, the Court has allowed a team of lawyers and campaigners to sue Google on behalf of the possibly millions whose data they say is affected – and in doing so, it is likely to open the door to other similar actions. And with such an imbalance between the power, weight and wealth of big business and individual consumers, that is welcome.

"Of course, none of this means that in this specific case payouts will come, just that the argument about whether they should or shouldn't can be heard."

Why was the claim made?

The campaign group alleges that between June 2011 and February 2012, Google's algorithms allowed it to trick people's iPhones into releasing personal data from the phone's default internet browser Safari.

Google's business model involves using personal data to help sell targeted advertisements. But Google You Owe Us alleges that in this case the company's action breached data protection laws.

The legal challenge from Google You Owe Us was what's known as a 'representative action' – essentially, a claim brought by an individual on behalf of a group of people.

A panel of four – MSE founder Martin Lewis, former High Court judge Christopher Clarke, Ofgem non-executive director Christine Farnish and former Government adviser Dominic McGonigal – were a sounding board for decisions made by the group, to represent the views of the people who might have been affected.

What happens next?

The judgment overturns an October 2018 High Court decision which effectively blocked consumers' route to redress through representative legal actions.

While today's judgment is a success for the Google You Owe Us campaign, and continues to keep the possibility of some iPhone users getting redress open, the process is likely to be lengthy.

Google has resisted the case at every stage, and is likely to do so again – we've contacted it to ask what its action will be, and will update this story when we hear back.

Google will now have to decide whether it wants to file an appeal with the Supreme Court, or ask the judge in court today for permission to appeal.

What does Google You Owe Us say?

Richard Lloyd, the representative claimant for Google You Owe Us, said: "Today's judgment sends a very clear message to Google and other large tech companies: you are not above the law.

"Google can be held to account in this country for misusing peoples' personal data, and groups of consumers can together ask the courts for redress when firms profit unlawfully from 'repeated and widespread' violations of our data protection rights. We will take this fight against Google all the way."

What does Google say?

A Google spokesperson said: "Protecting the privacy and security of our users has always been our number one priority.

"This case relates to events that took place nearly a decade ago and that we addressed at the time. We believe it has no merit and should be dismissed."

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