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Google dodges fine: UK court blocks iPhone data breach citing ‘lack of damages’

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The UK’s High Court has blocked a court case against Google, which claimed the tech giant had collected sensitive information from over 4 million iPhone users using a loophole.

Google faced claims that it circumvented the privacy settings installed on Apple’s iPhone Safari browser between August 2011 and February 2012, using a method known as the Safari Workaround, with the intention of using data to separate users into easily distinguishable categories for advertisers.

The legal action court case, which was first heard in May, was brought forward by a group called ‘Google You Owe Us’, headed up by Richard Lloyd, a former Executive Director at Which.

Lloyd believes in acting illegally, Google should financially compensate the iPhone users who were affected.

The number of affected users has been estimated at 4.4 million, meaning Google would have been liable for damages between £1 and £3bn.

As it stands, the class-action suit can no longer proceed as it would be impossible to accurately calculate the number of iPhone users who have been impacted sufficiently.

As a data controller in this instance, Google has breached its responsibilities under the Data Protection Act, though this case is not to punish illegal activity, but to seek compensation for users as a result of the illegal activity.

However Justice Warby, who oversaw the case, today found that while there is “no dispute” against the argument Google was wrongful in obtaining data this way, the claims that people suffered “damage” from the workaround were not sufficiently evidenced.

Additionally, he said it would be impossible to reliably calculate the number of iPhone users affected.

Lloyd said the group plans to seek permission to appeal the High Court’s decision.

“Today’s judgement is extremely disappointing and effectively leaves millions of people without any practical way to seek redress and compensation when their personal data has been misused,” he said in a statement.

“Google’s business model is based on using personal data to target adverts to consumers and they must ask permission before using this data. The court accepted that people did not give permission in this case yet slammed the door shut on holding Google to account.”

A Google spokesperson said: “The privacy and security of our users is extremely important to us. This claim is without merit, and we’re pleased the Court has dismissed it.”

Google’s parent company Alphabet was fined a record-breaking $5bn in July by the EU’s competition watchdog over “serious illegal behaviour” with its Android operating system, where regulators concluded Google had forced operators to use Android over other services.

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