UK judge throws out $4.3 billion civil case against Google

By | 8th October 2018

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  • A U.K. judge threw out a civil case against Google that could have cost the company 3.3 billion pounds (~$4.4 billion).
  • The case — started by a campaign called “Google You Owe Us” — alleged Google violated U.K. privacy laws in 2011 through 2012.
  • The dismissal of the case is a big win for Google, and a big loss for Google You Owe Us.


Today, a high court judge in the United Kingdom dismissed a case against Google which could have cost the search engine giant up to 3.3 billion pounds (~$4.4 billion), via The Guardian.

The civil case revolved around people who used the Safari web browser on iPhones in 2011 through 2012. In Safari’s settings was a module that said “Do not track,” which was in the “on” position by default. The plaintiff in the case alleges that most consumers likely thought this meant Google would not track their web browsing.

However, Google was tracking users’ web browsing anyway, an act that the plaintiff says violates British law.

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The plaintiff in the case — calling itself “Google You Owe Us” — is led by Richard Lloyd, a frequent critic of Google and advocate for internet privacy regulation. Although Lloyd claims Google violated the law with its tracking in 2011 and 2012, he decided to form a civil case against the company instead of a criminal one.

Lloyd and Google You Owe Us obtained funding for legal fees from a litigation firm called Therium, which markets itself as a way for businesses, groups, and individuals to obtain “the costs of pursuing [a] claim in return for a share of the proceeds payable if, and only if, the claim is successful.”

Mr. Justice Warby — the high court judge for the case — made these statements in his dismissal:

“It is arguable that Google’s alleged role in the collection, collation, and use of data obtained via the ‘Safari workaround’ was wrongful, and a breach of duty. [However,] the damage sustained and the compensation recoverable by each represented individual are modest at best. The main beneficiaries of any award at the end of this litigation would be the funders and the lawyers, by a considerable margin.”

In other words, Justice Warby thinks what Google did is not right, but doesn’t think the amount of money Google You Owe Us wanted aligned with that wrongdoing.

While the plaintiff's intentions may have been pure, the judge in this case seems to think that this was more of a money-making venture.

Google You Owe Us wanted as much as 750 pounds (~$980) for every U.K. iPhone user from 2011 to 2012, which is around 4.4 million people.

If the case had been found in the plaintiff’s favor, Google would have had to give the funds to Google You Owe Us, which would then disperse the settlement to the affected users. It’s clear from Warby’s statement that he was concerned the money would mostly go to Richard Lloyd and Therium.

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