Google: Accountable under UK law?

As campaigners slam Google for claiming that UK laws don’t apply to it, I want to look at whether that claim is indeed legitimate or not.

Legal documents, filed by a group of British users who want to sue Google, say that Google illegally violated their privacy in bypassing settings on Apple’s iPhone and iPad browser to install tracking cookies without their permission.

The twist, however, is that Google have already paid out settlement for the same case in the US. The search giant paid a record $22.5m fine in the US in June 2012 after the US Federal Trade Commission investigated that use of tracking cookies against millions of American consumers.

So why won’t they play ball in the UK?

On one side, we have a business that operates in the UK, with a .co.uk extension, and with multi-million pound offices located in Britain.

A campaigner, Marc Bradshaw, said: "It seems to us absurd to suggest that consumers can’t bring a claim against a company which is operating in the UK and is even constructing a billion-pound headquarters in London. If consumers can’t bring a civil claim against a company in a country where it operates, the only way of ensuring it behaves is by having a robust regulator."

On the other hand, black and white examples show that Google can indeed be impenetrable to some law outside of the US. For example, while you are signing up for a Gmail account, you need to accept a privacy statement which explicitly states that Google justifies its actions based on the laws of the state of California.

It’s an argument that implies we are the customers of a business based in the US, therefore we have to oblige by those terms and conditions.

So is it a case of unlawful, invaded privacy? Or rather a neglect to fully understand the small print that none of us ever read – but is really there for a reason just like this, a get out of jail free card.

We will have to wait until October, when the case will be heard in an English court.

What do you think?

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