Google will attempt to block a $4.16 billion class action lawsuit at Britain’s highest court on Wednesday over allegations that it secretly tracked millions of iPhone users’ internet activity.
The tech giant’s remote appearance before the UK Supreme Court follows years of wrangling with Richard Lloyd, the former director of consumer group Which?, who filed the suit on behalf of more than 4.4 million people alleged to have been improperly tracked in England and Wales.
Google was previously forced to pay a $22.5 million fine in the US to the Federal Trade Commission for similar behavior in 2012. Should the UK action prove successful the payout could dwarf that of the US fine.
Lloyd claims Google “illegally misused the data of millions of iPhone users” by employing the “Safari workaround” between August 2011 and February 2012, with which Google used cookies to track users’ browser activity without their permission, as required under British data protection laws.
The resulting “browser-generated information” collected by Google was allegedly used to categorize users based on characteristics such as race, social class, political affiliation, and sexual orientation.
The company insists the data was not shared with any third parties and, in line with the applicable data protection laws, cannot be said to have inflicted any harm upon those affected.
Supported by campaign group Google You Owe Us, Lloyd hopes to win up to £3 billion in compensation from the firm, following a years-long petition initially rejected by the courts in 2018.
In a statement ahead of the hearing, Lloyd said: “Global technology companies are not above the law — no matter where they are. It is their legal duty to use our data appropriately and to keep it safe.”
He added: “Google illegally misused the data of millions of iPhone users without consent and we want to hold them to account.”
A Google spokesperson said: “These claims relate to events that took place a decade ago and that we addressed at the time. We look forward to making our case in court.”