Supreme Court Google ruling sends shockwaves through legal community
London’s legal community has been left reeling by the Supreme Court’s decision to vote down a £3bn lawsuit against Google.
The action led by former Which? director Richard Lloyd, supported by the campaign group Google You Owe Us, fought to bring a “representative action” against Google for “illegally” collecting Safari browsing data through “clandestine tracking” and profiting commercially from its sale.
The action on behalf of 4.4m Brits went through multiple appeals before finally being shot down in a surprise judgement by the Supreme Court today which found the claim to be void because Lloyd had failed to provide evidence of financial damages and mental distress being caused to any individual iPhone users.
The judgement has far reaching implications for data privacy law in the UK according to Michael Yates, Senior Counsel, International law firm Taylor Wessing. He said, “This is good news for controllers who are now much less likely to face opt-out, litigation funded data privacy claims brought by one person on behalf of many others for damages based on simply losing control of your data.
“Whilst this decision makes mass data litigation harder, it’s based on the old law and it doesn’t preclude it or a similar case being successfully brought in the future. Failing to be GDPR compliant remains a legal, as well as a regulatory, risk,” he added.
Commenting on today’s decision Ben Sigler, a partner at law firm Stephenson Harwood, said: “organisations holding significant volumes of personal data will today be breathing a sigh of relief as the Supreme Court has significantly restricted the possibility of data protection class actions being pursued on an opt-out basis.
Mass action lawsuits which require claimants to opt-out have become an increasingly common feature of the US legal system. While the Google case was shot down on the basis that the damages claim lacked evidence the presiding judge did not rule out the possibility of future mass-action lawsuits if damages could be calculated.
Leigh Mallon, Partner at law firm Steptoe & Johnson said that mass-action lawsuits were the only kind of claim likely to succeed against tech giants such as Google. Mallon said: “the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment rejects the Claimants’ argument that the loss of control of personal data has an intrinsic value capable of compensation.
“While data controllers will continue to face increasing activity from supervisory authorities, it is almost impossible for individuals to bring private damages claims because the legal costs of doing so will far exceed any damages that might be recovered.”