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January 31, 2013

UK Internet Users Launch Landmark Suit Against Google

By Jody Ray Bennett, TMCnet Contributing Writer

Google (News - Alert) has been the subject of criticism lately with regard to some of its security and privacy practices, which seem to violate its unofficial motto, “Don't be evil.” But a group of Internet users has taken it one step further this week by launching an unprecedented privacy case against the tech giant, alleging the firm undermined the security settings on Apple's (News - Alert) Safari browsers in order to secretly track users’ browsing habits and gather data.

The case is a landmark in the U.K., as it is the first of its kind. A group of users concerned about Google's apparent lack of respect for privacy came together to form a campaigning group called Safari Users Against Google's Secret Tracking.

Olswang, the law firm representing the group's case, marked yesterday's (January 28) Data Privacy Day by launching a Facebook (News - Alert) page to spread the word and to provide information to other people who may have been affected.

The Facebook page can be found here, and currently has 435 “likes.”

The group's claim focuses on tracking cookies that were covertly installed by Google on the devices of users browsing with Safari. An EU law that came into effect in 2011 prevents sites from installing cookies without explicitly notifying the user and providing the option to disable.

The case's initial claimant, Judith Vidal-Hall, stated, “Google claims it does not collect personal data but doesn't say who decides what information is 'personal.' Whether something is private or not should be up to the internet surfer, not Google.”

Google was able to circumvent privacy settings by embedding a code in its DoubleClick (News - Alert) ads, such that when the ads were clicked, Google left cookies on the computers to provide targeted advertising.

However, Safari's default privacy settings normally block such actions, so users were under the impression that they were not being subject to said cookies.

The suit is on the heels of a similar issue in the United States. When an academic researcher noticed what Google was up to and published and exposé, Google was fined $22.5 million by the U.S. Federal Trad Commission.

The U.K. group is seeking damages, disclosure and an apology from Google.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO Miami 2013, happening now in Miami, Florida.  Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Braden Becker

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