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High Court derails Google defence in Safari browser stalker cookie brouhaha

Ad giant vows to appeal after privacy warriors score legal win

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The High Court in London, England, today rejected Google's claim that the company is not subject to UK data protection laws.

The advertising giant – sued by Brits who allege the company invaded their privacy – tried to argue that Blighty's courts have "no jurisdiction" over it. But the High Court disagreed, and now Google will have to take its fight to the Court of Appeal.

Mountain View, which has staff and offices in the UK, has been battling a lawsuit brought last year by Blighty-based Apple users, whose browser habits were slurped – without permission – by Google.

Owners of Apple devices who used Cupertino's Safari browser between September 2011 and February 2012 claim that Google bypassed the surfing tool's security settings to plant a temporary cookie that skimmed information from them to personalise ads, allegedly in violation of British data laws.

But Google told The Register on Thursday that the case was, in its view, without merit.

Mountain View said:

A case almost identical to this one was dismissed in its entirety three months ago in the US.

We still don’t think that this case meets the standards required in the UK for it to go to trial, and we’ll be appealing today’s ruling.

Sitting in the High Court, Mr Justice Tugendhat today dismissed Google's attempts to suffocate the lawsuit. The top beak said England's courts were the "appropriate jurisdiction" to hear the claims brought by a group of Brits that include Judith Vidal-Hall – one-time editor of the Index On Censorship magazine.

The privacy activist said she was happy with the High Court's decision. Another claimant in the case, Marc Bradshaw, commented:

If Google starts to respect privacy again and participates in this country in a responsible way, our campaign will be unnecessary. Until then, our fight continues – in the English courts, in the media, in Parliament and online. Our message to Google is clear: stop abusing your users.

Apple customers in the US brought legal action against Google in 2012 on the same grounds, which inspired a group of Brits to open proceedings against the company in Blighty.

The ads giant 'fessed up to the cookie gaffe in early 2012 after a law student and security researcher spotted the flaw in the software. Google removed the tracking code that had targeted Safari.

An investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission in August of that year led to a measly $22.5m fine being dished out to Google for its privacy slip-up.

On 19 November last year, the Wisconsin Attorney General ordered Google to cough an additional $17m to be shared out among 37 states and the District of Columbia. ®

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