U.K. Court Reinstates Lawsuit Accusing Google of Bypassing Safari’s Privacy Settings to Track iPhone Users

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An appeals court in London has reinstated a lawsuit filed against Google that accuses the company of unlawfully gathering personal information by circumventing the iPhone’s default privacy settings, according to Bloomberg.


The collective action, equivalent to a class action lawsuit in the United States, alleged that Google illegally tracked and gathered the personal data of over four million iPhone users in the U.K. between 2011 and 2012. The case was first brought in November 2017 and had been dismissed in October 2018.

“This case, quite properly if the allegations are proved, seeks to call Google to account for its allegedly wholesale and deliberate misuse of personal data without consent, undertaken with a view to a commercial profit,” wrote Judge Geoffrey Vos in a ruling today, per the report.

A similar lawsuit was filed in the United States in 2012, when Google was discovered to be circumventing privacy protections in Safari on iOS in order to track users through ads on numerous popular websites.

Specifically, Google took advantage of a Safari loophole that made the browser think that the user was interacting with a given ad, thus allowing a tracking cookie to be installed. With that cookie installed, it became easy for Google to add additional cookies and to track users across the web.

At the time, Safari blocked several types of tracking, but made an exception for websites where a person interacted in some way — by filling out a form, for example. Google added code to some of its ads that made Safari think that a person was submitting an invisible form to Google, thus creating a temporary cookie.

Google stopped this practice after it was reported by The Wall Street Journal, and refuted many details of the report, while Apple closed the loophole in a Safari update shortly after. Google also paid a then-record $22.5 million fine to the Federal Trade Commission over its practices back in 2012.

“Protecting the privacy and security of our users has always been our No. 1 priority,” a Google spokeswoman told Bloomberg. “This case relates to events that took place nearly a decade ago and that we addressed at the time.”

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