Google returns to the English courts on Monday, determined to prevent British consumers from continuing a legal action which accuses the internet giant of flouting their right to privacy.

The consumers claim that Google ignored their wishes, bypassing security settings, to install tracking cookies on their computers which enabled the company to target them with advertising.  Google was fined £13.8m in the US after its circumvention of privacy settings on Apple devices was found to be a violation of an earlier order from the US Federal Trade Commission.  It also paid out a further £10.5m to settle another claim.  The consumers argue that British internet users deserve similar action to deter internet companies from ignoring their right to privacy.

Google argues that a decision in January by High Court Judge, Mr Justice Tugendhat, to allow the consumers to sue the company in England was wrong, as there is “no serious issue to be tried” given that the “alleged incursion into the private life by [Google’s] use of cookies does not reach a level of seriousness to engage a right to privacy under Article 8 [of the Human Rights Act 1998]”.  It argues that the claim lacks merit as it claims that consumers suffered no harm.

The consumers, all members of the Google Governance Campaign which campaigns for better corporate behaviour by the internet company in the UK,  are outraged that Google should seek to underplay the gravity of its actions.  “Google needs to start treating British consumers with respect and honesty”, said Judith Vidal-Hall, one of the three claimants.  “Attempting to trivialise this serious matter and claim that this abuse of consumers’ wishes is not serious is a disgrace.  This is exactly why this case must go ahead in England, for English justice to hold this company to account once and for all.”

Next Monday, Google will call on the Court of Appeal to dismiss the case, which is being brought by three members of the Google Governance Campaign as a test case.  170 potential claimants have registered interest, and millions of Apple users across the world could potentially have a claim.

Dan Tench, a partner at the law firm Olswang, who represents the claimants, highlighted the case’s importance:

“The Court of Appeal hearing will decide whether British consumers actually have any right to hold Google to account in this country.  This is the appropriate forum for this case: here in England where the consumers used the internet and where they have a right to privacy.  Google clearly does not want to answer to the English courts.  Instead it relies on highly technical, but flawed, arguments to seek to overturn the High Court’s decision to allow this case to proceed.  They have given no principled explanation as to why the rules should be interpreted to prevent these types of claims to be taken against overseas defendants.  ”