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Google faces legal action over iPhone tracking

Google is facing a fresh legal battle over the way in which it uses personal data after it was announced that a group of iPhone users is bringing a multi-million pound claim for breach of privacy. This action is the latest in a series of legal challenges against the leading internet search engine, and follows the investigation carried out by the ICO (Information Commissioner's Office) into the collection of data from wi-fi networks by the vehicles used to map the UK for Google's Street View application.

To date, over 70 Safari users have added their names to the group who are claiming damages against Google. The claim stems from their use of secret tracking cookies to analyse the habits of users of Apple's Safari browser without their consent. Google bypassed the security settings on the browser, enabling it to see which sites had been visited by the users; this information could then be collected and used to provide targeted advertising.

The group is alleging that in doing so, Google breached their confidence, their privacy and the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998. Google has already faced sanctions in the US over the same issue. In November 2012, the Federal Trade Commission imposed a $22.5 million fine for failing to comply with US privacy law.

The group action against Google demonstrates that individuals are becoming increasingly aware of their rights under privacy laws, and are willing to take action against organisations which attempt to circumvent those laws for their own commercial benefit. In view of the size of Google's annual profits, the likelihood is that even a successful claim against Google will have little impact on its operations, though the potential damage to the web giant's reputation may prove to be more serious. Privacy regulators around the world are likely to continue monitoring Google carefully to ensure that no further infractions are committed.

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at March 2013. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases; we cannot be held responsible for any action (or decision not to take action) made in reliance upon the content of this publication.

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