Google Sued $4B for 'Secretly Tracking Users'

John Lister's picture

Google is being sued for a potential $4 billion over claims it intentionally bypassed security settings on iPhones. It's likely to succeed following similar cases in the past.

The case has been filed in the UK by a group called 'Google You Owe Us'. They are seeking "representative action" status, which is similar to class action status in the United States. If that's granted, any settlement or damages in the case could apply to as many as 4.4 million people. (Source:

Claims May Sound Familiar

On the face of it, the case looks bad for Google as it covers the same issue as two previous US cases that led to the company paying damages. As with those cases, the claim is that in 2010 and 2011 Google's DoubleClick ad network used a workaround to bypass the default settings in the Safari browser.

The workaround involved cookies, which are small text files stored on a computer by a browser to identify an individual. The main use of cookies is to personalize a web page for a user, such as keeping track of a login. It is possible to use a cookie to track which sites a user visits online, but the default setting in Safari was to block this.

To make things worse, Google's online help tool told users its cookies would be blocked in this way, meaning they didn't need to do anything to prevent Google tracking them online. The workaround meant this was not the case.

Google Doesn't Admit Wrongdoing

Google didn't formally admit any wrongdoing in either of the US cases. In one case brought by the Federal Trade Commission, it was fined $22.5 million. In the other case brought by attorneys general from several states, it agreed to pay $17 million to be split between 37 states and the District of Colombia.

The new case in the UK might not be as clear-cut. It's possible the issue might still have to be decided in court given there's no precedent of Google actually admitting wrongdoing in the situation. Google is also arguing that the events took place too long ago to be legally relevant now.

The group bringing the claim is asking for £750 (just over $1,000 USD) compensation for each affected user. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

If the claims are true, is the amount of compensation requested reasonable? Should Google's alleged misinformation about its behavior mean it is punished more harshly? Do you clearly understand how you are and aren't tracked when you use your web browser?

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matt_2058's picture

If Google hacked a setting, then they are guilty of violating the agreement and should compensate the users. Add on that they continue to deny it deserves another slap on the hand.

It basically comes down to Google hacking and stealing personal info. Just like any of the other illegal hackings stealing personal info that are regularly in the news.

Google can set the example for acceptable behavior. But things like this just tarnish that standing.

Rusty's picture

Slightly off-topic, but If a forward thinking, liberal company like Google does these sorts of things (and I suspect they do), just imagine what the cable company ISPs are doing behind our backs. And yet, we are about to give them much more license to abuse us by rescinding net neutrality.