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Google: UK privacy laws don't apply to us, we're American

19 Aug 2013
google logo headquarters sign search engine seo

Google has argued that UK privacy laws do not apply to the firm as it is a US-based company.

According to law firm Olswang, Google made the statement after Olswang brought a High Court case against the search giant. The claimants in the case, backed by Safari Users Against Google's Secret Tracking, argue that Google is bypassing the Apple iPhone's built-in security settings in order to monitor and collect users' personal information through the Safari browser.

At the time of publishing, Google had not responded to V3's request for comment on the accusations.

The case is similar to one filed with the US Federal Trade Commission, which ended with Google being fined $22.5m. Claimant Marc Bradshaw said the UK action is designed to make UK authorities take even sterner action against Google, arguing that fines alone will not work.

"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 $1bn 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," Bradshaw said.

"Fines would be useless – even if Google agreed to pay them – because Google earns more than the maximum fine in less than two hours. With no restraint Google is free to continue to invade our privacy whether we like it or not."

Olswang partner Dan Tench said the law firm has already started working to make departments such as the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) take a more proactive and stern approach with Google.

"Our letter to the Information Commissioner conveyed our client's position that fines won't work and urged him to change Google's behaviour through an enforcement notice or other alternative sanctions. The response was that they found our client's position simplistic and difficult to implement," Tench said.

"But a leading QC disagrees and has advised that the Information Commissioner does have stronger powers. We note that France's regulator CNIL has been more robust, announcing a final ultimatum to Google to ensure quickly that its privacy policy complies with European law. Our regulator should listen to consumers and recognise that other sanctions are needed to get Google to behave."

The case is one of many privacy complaints facing Google. In the US, rights group Consumer Watchdog launched a similar complaint against the firm. Last week, Google claimed Gmail users should not expect privacy in a court filing for the case.

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Alastair Stevenson

Alastair has worked as a reporter covering security and mobile issues at V3 since March 2012. Before entering the field of journalism Alastair had worked in numerous industries as both a freelance copy writer and artist.

View Alastair's Google+ profile

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