Google has responded to complaints about its surreptitious snooping of users of Apple devices by claiming that it is not subject to UK privacy laws.
The claim was made in a bid to get a lawsuit against the company, launched in the UK, thrown out.
The complainants are seeking damages for what they believe was an infringement of their privacy by Google.
Google has been accused of bypassing privacy settings built into the Safari web browser on Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices, as well as on the Apple Mac desktop and laptop computers, in order to track users and their online activity.
It was fined a record sum by the US Federal Trade Commission – $22.5m – for the privacy infringement, but is also facing a class-action lawsuit in the US from individuals who claim that the company violated their privacy.
However, it has suggested that because Google is based in California, it should not be subject to UK privacy laws and similarly investigated in the UK (and elsewhere) and sued over the alleged privacy infringements.
Google’s attitude brought a sharp rebuke from privacy campaigners. Big Brother Watch director Nick Pickles called for improved regulation: “Regulators need to step up and ensure that when citizens are illegally tracked against their wishes, the companies riding roughshod over their privacy is held to account,” he told the Daily Mail.
Olswang solicitor Dan Tench suggested that it was another instance of “Google being here [in the UK] when it suits them and not being here when it doesn’t”.
The US privacy case centres on the “do not track” feature built into the Safari web browser, which Google “accidentally” circumvented in a scheme using third-party cookies.
The alleged abuse was uncovered by computer science and law graduate Jonathan Meyer, who explained how it worked to Computing.