Google Fighting UK Government on Privacy

Google asks a British court to dismiss privacy claims against it, arguing that U.K. law doesn't apply to the U.S.-based company. Analysts say that's nonsense.


Google is fighting a new legal battle over data-privacy challenges in the United Kingdom and argues that the company can't be held accountable to U.K. privacy laws because Google is an American company based in the United States.

That position, however, is not going over well with British authorities or with a group of Britons who filed a lawsuit in their country in connection with Google's past handling of personal data on their iPhones, according to an Aug. 18 report in The (London) Telegraph.

"The company is facing a landmark group legal action by Britons angry over the way it circumvented settings on the iPhone to track their Web usage," reported The Telegraph. In July 2012, Google was fined $22.5 million for similar behavior in the United States by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) after Google used code to bypass Apple Safari Web-browser privacy settings that blocked user tracking cookies by default.

In response to the latest British claims, however, Google argued that it isn't covered by British privacy laws, saying there is "'no jurisdiction' for the case to be heard [there] because its consumer services are provided by Google Inc., based in Silicon Valley, rather than Google U.K.," according to the story.

Several of the claimants in the lawsuit told The Telegraph that they are angry about Google's response. "It seems 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," Marc Bradshaw, one of the claimants, told the paper.

Google has asked that the case be dismissed and will get a hearing on its request in October, according to The Telegraph.

In the U.S. case in 2012, the government alleged that Google had used special code to bypass Safari privacy settings that blocked user tracking cookies by default, which then enabled the browser to accept cookies. Google disabled the code soon after reports of the issue surfaced, and stated at the time the situation was unintentional and that the ad cookies did not collect personal information.

Several IT analysts contacted by eWEEK, however, say that they think Google is essentially grasping at straws.

"Who does Google think they are?" asked Dan Olds, principal analyst with Gabriel Consulting, mocking the company for even arguing such a position in Britain. "They can't do this, especially since they have a presence in the country. This is not going to work. I think companies have tried this before and it has been disappointing."

And if such a legal argument were ever accepted, said Olds, companies would begin lining up to incorporate themselves in remote places like Antarctica, so they could be free of legal liability wherever they do business around the globe. "That would be a really nice way to go," he said sarcastically.

Another analyst, Dan Maycock of Slalom Consulting, said that in similar cases involving other companies and other nations, he doubts that Google can win its claim in the U.K.

"I think it's a surprise that they are arguing this," said Maycock. "I think it's a bit ludicrous that they would say something like that. For them to try to say 'we are not based there, that you can't prosecute us,' it's kind of a fool's errand. I'm not sure what they are trying to gain by doing this."