Richard Lloyd, a former director of Which?, was attempting to bring a US-style class action lawsuit on behalf of over 4 million people in England and Wales. He argued that Google secretly tracked the internet activity of millions of Apple iPhone users for months in 2011 and 2012 and then used the data obtained for commercial purposes. Lloyd claimed that Google had bypassed privacy settings on Apple and had used the data gathered to divide people into categories for advertisers. Google’s response was that there was no suggestion that private information had been disclosed to third parties. Lloyd had tried to sue Google for £750 per person for alleged breaches of the Data Protection Act.
In 2019 the High Court initially stated that Lloyd could not serve the claim on Google in the English courts as Google is a US company incorporated in Delaware and any such service should take place in the US. The Court of Appeal overturned this in 2019 but this was again overturned this month by the Supreme Court.
Lord Leggatt giving the lead ruling stated affected iPhone users could be awarded a uniform sum without having to prove financial loss or mental distress which he found to be “unsustainable”. Damages were sought in each individual case without the need for each individual to prove distress. The Supreme Court found that each claimant would need to prove some unlawful processing of an individual’s personal data otherwise they would have no prospect of meeting the threshold for an award of damages.
Since the claim has never been served Google has not had to serve its defence, which would make interesting reading.
Rocio Concha – a director at Which? Said that the judgment was “disappointing news for millions of consumers who may now struggle to get redress for potentially having had their personal data exploited by Google.”
This ruling does perhaps prevent an inundation of group actions against big tech firms that handle the data of millions of people in England and Wales and will be scrutinised by those wishing to bring similar representative actions
“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. Without proof of some unlawful processing of an individual’s personal data beyond the bare minimum required to bring them within the definition of the represented class, a claim on behalf of that individual has no prospect of meeting the threshold for an award of damages.”