Google, six months after being fined $22.5 million by U.S. regulators for bypassing privacy settings on Apple's Safari Web browser, is now being sued by a group of U.K.-based residents for allegedly "snooping" on their online search activities while they were using Safari.
The lawsuit echoes a similar one filed early last year by Safari users in the United States. The court action in the U.K., which does not specify how many people are represented, was announced Jan. 27 by British law firm Olswang.
The U.K. lawsuit will seek damages from Google "for undermining the security settings on Apple's Safari browser to track online usage covertly," according to the statement.
The group also started a Facebook page, "Safari Users Against Google's Secret Tracking," to publicize its efforts as part of the worldwide Data Privacy Day, which is being celebrated Jan. 28.
"Google has a responsibility to consumers and should be accountable for the trust placed in them," Dan Tench, an attorney representing the plaintiffs for Olswang, said in a statement. "We hope that they will take this opportunity to give Safari users a proper explanation about what happened, to apologize and, where appropriate, compensate the victims of their intrusion."
The lawsuit aims at Google's use of tracking cookies, which the plaintiffs allege had been "secretly installed by Google on the computers and mobile devices of people using Apple's Safari Internet browser."
In a statement, 74-year-old Judith Vidal-Hall, one of the plaintiffs, said she joined the fight because she opposes Google's data-use policies.
"Google claims it does not collect personal data but doesn't say who decides what information is 'personal,'" Vidal-Hall said in the statement. "Whether something is private or not should be up to the Internet surfer, not Google. We are best-placed to decide, not them."
The lawsuit argues that Google "designed a code to circumvent privacy settings in order to deposit the cookies on computers in order to provide user-targeted advertising."
The violations came when "the claimants thought that cookies were being blocked on their devices because of Safari's strict default privacy settings and separate assurances being given by Google at the time," according to the statement. The problem was that the cookies were not being blocked, the plaintiffs allege.
In early 2012, Google faced a similar legal situation in the United States when Safari users in Missouri and Illinois sued the search giant over its placement of online ad cookies in Safari. The move sidestepped control settings intended to protect users of Safari.