Google: We are above UK privacy laws

Google: We are above UK privacy laws

Summary: After being accused of invading the privacy of iPhone users, Google claims that it cannot be held accountable under U.K. law.

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Google believes that U.K. privacy laws do not apply to the company, and so British consumers that want to take the tech giant to court are facing a losing battle, or should book their tickets to the United States.

A landmark group legal action brought forward by British consumers in the campaign group Safari Users Against Google's Secret Tracking accuses the firm of illegally tracking consumers online. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that Google circumvented privacy settings in Safari -- Apple's desktop and mobile browser -- and installed cookies in spite of strong security settings.

The FTC charged Google with placing advertising tracking cookies on computers and devices without authorization. The firm was fined $22.5m by authorities in the United States after the FTC's ruling. In response to the campaign group's allegations, the search engine giant says in legal filings that as an American firm, British privacy laws do not apply, and so the matter cannot be brought to a U.K. court.

The FTC said that all companies must "keep their privacy promises to consumers," but Google plans to contest the right of British Safari users to bring a case forward in the country they use Google's services in. The tech giant does not believe the case is of a serious nature, and according to the claimants, said "the browsing habits of internet users are not protected as personal information, even when they potentially concern their physical health or sexuality." 

Judith Vidal-Hall, one of the claimants, is "appalled" by Google's apparent attitude, saying: 

"Google's position on the law is the same as its position on tax: they will only play or pay on their home turf. What are they suggesting -- that they will force Apple users whose privacy was violated to pay to travel to California to take action when they offer a service in this country on a .co.uk site?

This matches their attitude to consumer privacy. They don't respect it and they don't consider themselves to be answerable to our laws on it." 

Another claimant, Marc Bradshaw, believes that Google is simply trying to avoid responsibility for its actions, commenting: 

"It seems to us absurd to suggest that consumers can't bring a claim against a company which is operating in the U.K. and is even constructing a $1 billion headquarters in London. 

The U.K. regulator, the Information Commissioner's Office, has said to me that all it can do is fine Google if it breaks the law, but Google clearly doesn't think that it is bound by that law. Fines would be useless -- even if Google agreed to pay them -- because Google earns more than the maximum fine in less than two hours. With no restraint Google is free to continue to invade our privacy whether we like it or not." 

In a letter to the Commissioner, Bradshaw says that alternative sanctions could include 'plain english' warnings on Google's services pages explaining how data is collected and tracked, the deletion of all illegally merged data and an apology placed on the Google search page. 

Bradshaw says:

"Google is one of the largest companies in the world with huge financial resources and access to the most expensive lawyers around the world. Regulators must rise to this challenge and rein in Google. If they fail, every internet user in this country will suffer and the right to online privacy could be lost forever."

Last week, Google said that users of its Gmail service cannot expect digital privacy. When you send an email or store messages in your inbox, according to the tech giant, "a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties." A motion filed by Google in response to a class action lawsuit accusing the firm of breaking wire tap laws when it scans emails for targeting advertising purposes said:

"Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient's assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient's ECS provider in the course of delivery." 

Emails, law and targeted advertising might not be the end of privacy worries in relation to Google's services, as a new patent potentially linked to Google Glass would not just allow pay per click advertising, but emotional responses to stimuli could be passed on to businesses for an additional fee.

Topics: Google, Government, Legal, Privacy

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35 comments
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  • a bit silly.

    If their browser "installed cookies", then complain about the browser accepting cookies it shouldn't.

    The "do not track" flag is strictly advisory... and not followed, is unenforceable anyway.

    Tracking can trivially be done just like it used to be - small images associated with an IP number, or by the URL requested.

    Cookies have never been that good at it.
    jessepollard
    • Yeah

      Just like if my door lock messes up, and a guy comes in when he isn't supposed to, I just go after the lock maker. How can the guy who came in illegally be held accountable?
      Michael Alan Goff
      • Psst

        You are applying logic. That won't work.
        sjaak327
        • Double Jeopardy if tried in the US.

          If the service is offered in the UK, I believe the UK has the ability to regulate the service itself, even if they are "free" or "low cost", or "subsidized via advertising".

          Google has been using the idea that they are a free web service, not obligated by law, because no "monetary exchange" occurs with end users/customers.

          So, Google doesn't make money directly from customers of its service. However, being a service company, they have the obligation to see that their offered products and services, even free, continue to meet local standards regarding privacy, and protect customers.

          Besides, if the case was filed in the US, likely Google would argue on the basis of "Double Jeopardy" that the case be thrown out. Under "Double Jeopardy", you can't be tried for breaking the law in the same jurisdiction.

          However, because Google performs business in Ireland, and if memory serves me correctly, Google's Ireland offices license the software to the US, they could be found liable, if served paperwork in Ireland for breaking UK law.
          MalcolmTucker
    • Oh and by the way

      On the other thread you went all high and mighty about certain companies not applying with Google's TOS, so I assume you are in disagreement with Google on this account right ?

      Surely they need to respect the law of the land ?
      sjaak327
      • Good point. Google feels they don't need to abide by the UK's "TOS"

        while crying that MS has to abide by their "TOS"

        Funny how Google thinks they're above everyone else.

        A sure sign of worry on their part when they feel they have to start playing games like that.
        William Farrel
    • What's that sound?

      Oh, seems jesse's started up his spin machine.
      William Farrel
  • Pure evil

    While I don't think Google action were too serious, these kind of justifications are just silly.
    While Internet is a very global thing and hard to be ruled by one country law, morals are "almost" universal, and for sure they are strong in the UK and in the USA.
    AleMartin
  • Shut down Google

    Google is a collection of thugs, drug cartel and pirates. I have blocked all Google owned domains (except youtube) in my home network.
    OwlllllllNet
    • how much do you get from Microsoft?

      how much do you get from Microsoft?
      ;)
      anywherehome
      • He probably gets half of what you get from Google

        you know, with MS having to do that 900 million dollar write down on Surface, money's tight. :)
        William Farrel
        • So I guess I want a job at Google

          Where should I sign?
          :-)
          AleMartin
          • Huh?? I thought you already worked there, Ale

            So pardon my surprise, there.
            William Farrel
      • You want a part time job?

        Follow the lead of Master_Yoda....
        OwlllllllNet
    • Can't stay off youtube?

      I bet those drug cartels are rubbing their hands in glee knowing what personal information they will steal from you. Be afraid Owlwhatever or seriously consider trying to get off the youtube drug.
      Little Old Man
      • I rarely use it...

        I only get to youtube from other websites, which are basically prodcuts reviews or similar stuff.

        Youtube is the biggest pirate site and must be shut down too.
        OwlllllllNet
  • I ditched Google a while back

    It was hard in the beginning as I out of habbit kept going back but I stuck with it and now Im Google free!
    DJK2
  • ditched Google

    only use Youtube, unfortunately.
    Xenon8
  • Do take note

    Your Privacy is of no concern to Google, as they need to make money, and they do so by invading your privacy. Time for UK politicians to explain to Google that yes they are subject to UK law as long as they want to operate in the country.
    sjaak327
  • Internet Needs Good Alternatives To Google Search And YouTube

    That is the only way Google starts to respect privacy.
    rmark@...