Google are about to enter into litigation in England.

In the case of Vidal-Hall and Others v Google Inc a group of claimants recently argued that Google had been tracking and collating information relating to their online activities on the Apple Safari browser without their consent. They are arguing that Google has misused their private information, breached their confidences and breached its duties under the Data Protection Act (“DPA”) – and they are seeking damages and an injunction. The information Google collected from their devices was used to generate advertisements which were then displayed on their screens, and the adverts were targeted to their apparent interests and disclosed information about them (a form of behavioural advertising). Anyone who looked at their device may have seen the adverts and knew what they had been looking at online.

Although they are claiming that they have suffered acute distress and anxiety, they cannot show that it has caused any financial damage, or that any of the information discovered by anyone looking at the screen would be detrimental. Google are arguing that financial loss is required for damages to be awarded under the DPA, whereas the claimants say that their Art 8 ECHR rights to privacy were engaged. In the judgment last week, the judge said that this was a “controversial question in a developing area of law, and it is desirable that the facts should be found”.

If the claimants win the argument that the requirement for financial loss should be dispensed with for these type of DPA claims, it could transform data protection litigation in England and open up the flood gates for people to bring claims against other search engines and social media that gather information in this way.