To recap: In February, the Wall Street Journal reported on new research by Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer that showed four companies seeking to circumvent consumers’ privacy settings in Apple’s browser, Safari. The four companies are: Google, Vibrant Media, Media Innovation Group and PointRoll. Google said the circumvention was a mistake and it disabled the code, but there was (pdf) public criticism, including a complaint (pdf) filed with the Federal Trade Commission. Questions were raised about whether the Safari circumvention meant that Google had violated a settlement it made with the FTC last year over Google’s Buzz product. The Internet services giant agreed to a comprehensive privacy program to settle charges (pdf) it “used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises to consumers when it launched its social network, Google Buzz. In August, the FTC announced a settlement with Google concerning privacy charges related to the Safari browser, and Google agreed to pay a $22.5 million fine. (All of the FTC’s case documents can be found here.)
Now, the Guardian reports that Internet services giant Google could face lawsuits in the United Kingdom over its actions regarding the Safari browser on desktop computers and mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads:
Google is facing a fresh privacy battle in the UK over its alleged secret tracking of the internet habits of millions of iPhone users.
An estimated 10 million Britons could have grounds to launch a privacy claim over the way Google circumvented Apple’s security settings on the iPhone, iPad and desktop versions of its Safari web browser to monitor their behaviour.
At least 10 British iPhone users have started legal proceedings and dozens more are being lined up, according to Dan Tench, the lawyer behind the action at the London-based firm Olswang. [...]
A letter before action has been sent to Google executives in the US and UK on behalf of two users, including Judith Vidal-Hall, the privacy campaigner and former editor of Index on Censorship. Another 10 are preparing to launch proceedings, and plans are afoot for a group to form an umbrella privacy action.
The legal action comes just months after Google was hit with a $22.5m (£14m) fine in the US over a privacy breach between summer 2011 and spring 2012.
Google has admitted it intentionally sidestepped security settings on Apple’s Safari web browser that blocked websites from tracking users through cookies – data stored on users’ computers that show which sites they have visited. Security researchers revealed last February that Google’s DoubleClick advertising network intentionally stored these cookies on users’ computers without their consent. [...]
Lawyers for claimants in the UK have ordered Google to reveal how it used the private information it secretly obtained, how much personal data was taken, and for how long. It is understood the claimants are suing Google for breaches of confidence and breach of privacy, computer misuse and trespass, and breach of the Data Protection Act 1998. [...]
News of the legal action was first reported by the Sunday Times.
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