Privacy group alleges Google ignores UK law

A campaign group, Safari Users Against Google’s Secret Tracking, claims to have seen legal documents filed by Google where the company declares itself exempt from UK privacy laws.

Google, the group said, would not accept service of the lawsuit in the UK – meaning the group would have to take the fight to California. The claim makes note of Google openly saying tracking cookings were installed on PCs and mobiles when people used Apple’s Safari browser, even after users had chosen to block them – letting the company track the browsing habits of Safari users without their consent.

In the US, Google paid a $22.5 million settlement to the FTC, when the company was caught out by a law student and security researcher.

A claimant in Britain, Marc Bradshaw, said in a statement: “It seems to us absurd to suggest that consumers can’t bring a claim against a company which is operating in the UK and is even constructing a $1 billion headquarters in London”.

“If consumers can’t bring a civil claim against a country where it operates, the only way of ensuring it behaves is by having a robust regulator,” Bradshaw said. He pointed out that the ICO will only fine Google if it breaks the law but “Google clearly doesn’t think that it is bound by that law,” Bradshaw said.

“Fines would be useless because Google earns more than the maximum fine in less than two hours,” Bradshaw continued. “With no restraint Google is free to continue to invade our privacy whether we like it or not”.

Law firm Olswang, representing the claimants, wrote a letter to the ICO proposing alternative sanctions – as the fines will only be a drop in the ocean for Google. The firm proposed plain English warnings on Google’s search home page about how it collects and tracks data, reversing Google’s merger of data across all services, and placing a prominent apology on Google’s search home page.

Olswang’s Dan Tench said the ICO’s response was dismissive, but that a “leading QC” disagrees and “has advised that the Information Commissioner does have stronger powers”.

“We note that France’s regulator, CNIL, has been more robust,” Tench said, “announcing a final ultimatum to Google to ensure quickly that its privacy policy complies with European law”.

Last week, the US’ Consumer Watchdog said Google had openly acknowledged that users of the Gmail service could not expect “legitimate” privacy with regards to their information and third parties. When questioned about this, an ICO spokesperson said, responding to TechEye:

“We have an ongoing investigation into whether Google’s privacy policy complies with the UK Data Protection Act. We have raised concerns with Google that its existing policy does not provide sufficient information to enable UK users of its services to understand how their data is being used.

“Failure to take the necessary action to improve the policies compliance with the Data Protection Act by 20 September will leave the company open to the possibility of formal enforcement action.”