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Millions of iPhone users miss out on £750 payout as campaigners lose Google Supreme Court challenge

Campaigners who launched legal action against Google over claims the tech giant secretly tracked the internet activity of millions of iPhone users have today lost their class action case. If the legal challenge had been successful, millions of iPhone users may have been awarded £750 each. But the Supreme Court's decision is final and cannot be appealed.

Former director of consumer group Which?, Richard Lloyd, supported by the campaign group 'Google You Owe Us', had alleged that between June 2011 and February 2012, Google wrongfully obtained personal information after bypassing the default privacy settings on iPhones.

Mr Lloyd said Google "illegally misused the data of millions of iPhone users" through the "clandestine tracking and collation" of information about internet usage on iPhones' Safari browser, known as the "Safari workaround". He added that around 4.4 million people in England and Wales were likely to have been impacted.

Mr Lloyd had initially launched legal action against Google in November 2017, but the case has since been dragged through the courts. The High Court initially ruled in October 2018 that Mr Lloyd's case could not progress, but that decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal in October 2019. Google then challenged the Court of Appeal's judgment at a hearing in April 2021, which led to today's decision by the Supreme Court.

Forcing Google to compensate consumers without proving financial loss or mental distress is 'unsustainable'

Mr Lloyd attempted to claim compensation of £750 for all those affected under the Data Protection Act 1998, which was in force at the time of the alleged breaches.

There is no legislation that allows for a single person to make a claim on behalf of a group of people who have similarly been affected by an alleged wrongdoing, however, Mr Lloyd brought the claim by relying on civil procedure rules, which allows a claim to be brought by one (or more) people as a representative of a larger group who have the 'same interest'.

However, when giving the lead ruling during the Supreme Court hearing today, Lord Leggatt said Mr Lloyd's intention that affected iPhone users could be awarded a uniform sum, without having to prove financial loss or mental distress, was "unsustainable".

The judge said: "What gives the appearance of substance to the claim is the allegation that Google secretly tracked the internet activity of millions of Apple iPhone users for several months and used the data obtained for commercial purposes.

"But on analysis the claimant is seeking to recover damages without attempting to prove that this allegation is true in the case of any individual for whom damages are claimed."

'We are bitterly disappointed that the Supreme Court has failed to do enough to protect the public'

In a statement after the ruling, the campaign group 'Google You Owe Us' said the decision was a bitter blow to UK consumers and that the Supreme Court had "imposed significant hurdles" which ruled out the campaign's effort to "give millions of British consumers the chance to group together to hold Google to account for misusing their data".

Mr Lloyd said: "We are bitterly disappointed that the Supreme Court has failed to do enough to protect the public from Google and other big tech firms who break the law. They have overturned a very clear ruling by senior, expert judges in the Court of Appeal.

"Although the Court once again recognised that our action is the only practical way that millions of British people can get access to fair redress, they've slammed the door shut on this case by ruling that everyone affected must go to court individually.

"If there are few consequences for abusing our personal data, then there is little incentive for companies like Google to protect consumers."

Mr Lloyd's solicitor, James Oldnall, said: "The ruling today gives Google and the rest of big tech the green light to continue misusing our data without consent, knowing they will go unpunished. It is a dark day when corporate greed is valued over our right to privacy."

What does Google say?

A Google spokesperson said: "This claim was related to events that took place a decade ago and that we addressed at the time. People want to know that they are safe and secure online, which is why for years we've focused on building products and infrastructure that respect and protect people's privacy."

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