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Google has a mixed day in European courts

US internet giant Google has defended a class action suit in the UK but still has to hand over billions to the EU.

The separate matters happen to have concluded on the same day. In the UK, its Supreme Court took a third look at a class-action claim against Google’s alleged hoovering of user data from Apple’s Safari browser on iPhones a decade ago. The claim sought millions of pounds of damages on behalf of those users on the grounds that their data was misused.

The original ruling in this case was that a class action isn’t warranted. Then an appeal overturned that ruling and today’s ruling overturned that appeal. Here’s some stuff from the conclusion of the latest ruling.

The judge took the view that, even if the legal foundation for the claim made in this action were sound, he should exercise the discretion conferred by CPR rule 19.6(2) by refusing to allow the claim to be continued as a representative action. He characterised the claim as “officious litigation, embarked upon on behalf of individuals who have not authorised it” and in which the main beneficiaries of any award of damages would be the funders and the lawyers.

He thought that the representative claimant “should not be permitted to consume substantial resources in the pursuit of litigation on behalf of others who have little to gain from it, and have not authorised the pursuit of the claim, nor indicated any concern about the matters to be litigated”.

The Supreme Court’s decision to support the original judgment is covered in this bit: the claimant seeks damages under section 13 of the DPA 1998 for each individual member of the represented class without attempting to show that any wrongful use was made by Google of personal data relating to that individual or that the individual suffered any material damage or distress as a result of a breach of the requirements of the Act by Google.

In other words, if this had been brought as an individual rather than class action suit, it may well have succeeded. “We are bitterly disappointed that the Supreme Court has failed to do enough to protect the public from Google and other big tech firms who break the law,” the lead claimant told the Beeb.

“Although the court once gain recognised that our action is the only practical way that millions of British people can get access to fair redress, they’ve slammed the door shut on this case by ruling that everyone affected must go to court individually.”

It seems like the Supreme Court thought this claimed crusade on behalf of the beleaguered public smelled too much of opportunism, of which there may well have been more than a touch. But then legal action against massive corporations is an expensive business, so maybe class action is the only way to get legal firms interested.

Meanwhile, over in the General Court of the EU, the €2.42 billion fine imposed on Google for rigging shopping search results in favour of its own service has been upheld. The fact that the original ruling has been in a state of appeal for four-and-a-half years is further evidence of the sheer legal firepower Google has at its disposal and how difficult it is to get rulings against such huge companies.

“Google and Alphabet brought an action against the Commission’s decision before the General Court of the European Union,” said the court press release. “By its judgment today, the General Court dismisses for the most part the action brought by the two companies, and upholds the fine imposed by the Commission.”

The main stated reasons are that the court: ‘recognises the anticompetitive nature of the practice at issue,’; ‘the Commission correctly found harmful effects on competition,’; and the court ‘rules out any objective justifications for Google’s conduct.’ Apparently Google can appeal again but hasn’t yet decided. We know where our money is on that.


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