Mishcon de Reya and Pinsent Masons take up lead roles on Google privacy breach dispute

Mishcon de Reya is advising a group led by the former executive director of consumer group Which?, Richard Lloyd, in a class action lawsuit against internet giant Google.

The group, named Google You Owe Us, alleges that Google breached the UK Data Protection Act by bypassing privacy settings on Apple phones to track the behaviour of people using the Safari browser.

The privacy bypass, which has been termed the ‘Safari Workaround’, allowed Google to collect information that was used by its DoubleClick advertising business to target content towards a user’s browsing habits, the claimants argue.

The claimants said the breach took place between June 2011 and February 2012 and could have affected 5.4 million people, who could be eligible to make a claim against Google.

Mishcon dispute resolution partner James Oldnall is acting for Lloyd, while Pinsent Masons is acting for Google, with a team led by technology, media and telecoms disputes partner David Barker.

Oldnall told Legal Week: “Data is a new currency in the new economy and we are slowly waking up to the ways that tech giants make their revenues off the back of our data. If you don’t understand how you are paying for the service, it is because you are the product. Google is not some benign entity, you pay it through the use of your data.

“From a procedural perspective, representative action is a longstanding part of English civil procedure, but this is the first time a representative action has been used in a modern context against a tech giant due to a data breach. If we are successful, I would like to think that it can be used more commonly to hold tech giants to account in relation to data breaches.”

Lloyd secured funding for the action through litigation funder Therium Capital Management, which has previously backed actions against Volkswagen during the emissions scandal and an action against European truck manufacturers over price fixing.

Oldnall has instructed Oliver Campbell QC of Henderson Chambers, Hugh Tomlinson QC of Matrix Chambers and Victoria Wakefield of Brick Court Chambers to advise on the case.

A Google spokesperson said: “This is not new – we have defended similar cases before. We don’t believe it has any merit and we will contest it.”

Earlier this year, the technology company turned to longstanding advisor Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton on a deal to buy the HTC engineering team behind the Pixel smartphone from Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC.