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Court throws out Google data protection claim

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

The Supreme Court upheld Google’s appeal against a Court of Appeal’s 2019 judgement in Lloyd vs Google.

The ruling means that iPhone users will miss out on a £750 payout each from Google over data tracking claims.

In the case Richard Lloyd – a former director of Which? – began proceedings in 2017 on behalf of iPhone users who were affected by the so-called ‘Safari workaround’ between August 2011 and February 2012.

Lloyd alleged that information on people’s health, race, ethnicity, sexuality and finance was gathered even when users had chosen a “Do not track” privacy setting. Google was alleged to have “illegally misused the data of millions of iPhone users”, through the “clandestine tracking and collation” of information about internet usage on iPhones’ Safari browser.

Lloyd was backed by Campaign group You Owe Us which points out that Google makes huge amounts of money from selling targeted advertising. In 2016, it earned $80bn from advertising alone.

If it had gone ahead, the case could have cost Google £3.2bn if it was forced to pay compensation to more than four million iPhone users in England and Wales. Each iPhone user would have been entitled to an estimated £750.

In today’s ruling, the Supreme Court held that “an individual is only entitled to compensation under section 13 [of the DPA 1998] where ‘damage’ – or in some circumstances ‘distress’ – is suffered”.

Lord Leggatt said the wording of s13 “cannot reasonably be interpreted as giving an individual a right to compensation without proof of material damage or distress whenever a data controller commits a non-trivial breach”.

Lloyd launched the case in 2018 but it was thrown out by the High Court after a judge said it was difficult to calculate how many people had been affected. The decision was overturned in 2019 by the Court of Appeal but Google challenged the Court of Appeal’s judgment at a hearing in April, leading to the Supreme Court ruling today.