Google has told the High Court that UK privacy laws do not apply to its activities here, as the search giant attempts to dodge legal action brought by a group of British users.

Google insists UK privacy laws do not apply to its activities here. (Credit: Reuters)

The 100-plus claimants are angry with the way Google circumvented settings on the iPhone to install cookies used to track their web usage; the company has already paid a $22.5 million (£14.4m) fine in the US over the practice.

Google claimed there is "no jurisdiction" for the case to be heard in the UK because its consumer services are provided by Google Inc, based in California, and not Google UK, reports the Telegraph.

Google was fined by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in August 2012, after a Stanford student published a study explaining how the search company had used website code to install cookies on the iPhones of Safari users - even if they had asked the browser to block such cookies. The search company could then use data collected by the cookie to show users adverts based on their browsing habits.


Despite paying the fine, Google said the cookie's activity was inadvertent and it did not collect any personal information such as names and addresses, or sensitive information like credit card details.

Google's claims of being immune to UK jurisdiction will raise questions from the company's millions of UK customers who use its service to browse the web, send email and interact online; fellow US companies such as Facebook and Microsoft provide their consumer web services through European subsidiaries so could not make the same legal argument.

Claimant Marc Bradshaw said: "It seems absurd to suggest that consumers can't bring a claim against a company which is operating in the UK and is even constructing a $1bn headquarters in London."

Bradshaw also raised concerns over the Information Commissioner's Office, the UK privacy regulator, and its inability to impose a meaningful fine on Google. In July the ICO told Google its privacy rules breached UK law, but it can only impose fines of up to £500,000.

Deeply worrying

Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, commented: "It's deeply worrying for a company with millions of British users to be brazenly saying they do not regard themselves bound by UK law.

"Regulators need to step up and ensure that when citizens are illegally tracked against their wishes, the company riding roughshod over their privacy is held to account."

Another claimant, Judith Vidal-Hall, added: "What are they suggesting - that they will force Apple users whose privacy was violated to pay to travel to California to take action when they offer a service in this country on a site?"

Google's application to have the UK case dismissed will be heard in October.