Europe News

UK users sue Google for alleged breach of privacy

Jane Croft
Getty Images

Google is embroiled in a legal fight with UK internet users who are suing the internet giant for allegedly breaching their privacy.

Google asked the High Court on Monday to rule that the forthcoming case be heard in the US, where it is based, rather than in England.

The case brought by three British users is significant because it touches on growing public concern about online privacy and use of personal data.

(

The claimants, who include Judith Vidal-Hall, a self-employed editor, and two directors of IT firms, are suing Google over what they claim was the clandestine tracking and collation of information on their internet usage on the Apple Safari browser between summer 2011 and spring 2012, which they say was carried out without their knowledge.

More from the Financial Times:
Google's running machines join robot race
Google to charge only for viewed ads
Google criticised over product listings

In written arguments submitted to the pre-trial hearing, the users claim the information obtained by Google "was aggregated and sold to advertisers who used its DoubleClick advertising service."

Google was able to obtain information in areas such as which websites they had visited, and was able to track surfing habits, and collect information on areas such as users' interests, hobbies, shopping habits, social class and political and religious beliefs, as well as information about their health and financial situation, the written submissions claim.

(

Google's actions "are likely to have affected millions of users in the UK and around the world in respect of which it must have made a substantial proportion of its advertising revenue profit," the written arguments allege.

About 170 people have contacted Olswang, the law firm bringing the claim over misuse of private information and breach of confidence, although the current action is being brought on behalf of a small group of test claimants.

How much higher can Google go?
How much higher can Google go?

The claimants allege they "had a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of the information tracked and collated by the defendant", which was "unjustifiably infringed" by Google during the period in question.

(Read more: Google mulled ditching US after NSA scandal)

They also claim Google owed a "duty of confidence" to them which it breached when it tracked their information.

Google has already agreed to pay a $22.5m civil penalty in August 2012,to settle charges brought by the US Federal Trade Commission that it misrepresented to users of Safari that it would not place tracking cookies or serve targeted advertisements.

Antony White QC, acting for Google, told the High Court on Monday thatthere was no suggestion "the defendant will continue or repeat the conduct complained of".

Google has already given undertakings to a number of US states governingits future conduct with users, the High Court was told.

(Read more: Protesters formhuman blockade around Google bus)

Mr White told the court: "All Safari browser users worldwide have the benefit of these steps."

Google, in its written arguments, claims the UK courts have no jurisdiction to try the claims brought against it and "none of the claimants suffered any economic loss or physical damage" and so any damages would be "very modest".

Olswang's Dan Tench said before the hearing: "British users have a right to privacy protected by English and European laws.

(Read more: Google execs got huge jet fuel discounts, NASA says)

"Google may weave complex legal arguments about why the case should not be heard here, but it has a legal and moral duty to users on this side of the Atlantic not to abuse their wishes. Google must be held to account here, even though it would prefer to ignore England."

The two-day legal hearing on whether the case should be heard in England must be determined before any future trial is listed. The case continues.

Follow us on Twitter: @CNBCWorld