As Google goes before a London court this week over an iPhone advertising controversy, the search giant faces a force more troublesome than opposing lawyers: a hostile British press that wants to convict the company of American arrogance on the basis of dubious legal claims.
The controversy, in case you missed it, stems from Google’s decision in 2011 to use crafty coding to override the privacy settings in Apple’s mobile Safari browser, and trick iPhones into accepting advertising cookies.
The incident led American regulators to impose a $22 million fine, but a related class action case against Google fell short in October when a federal judge in California ruled consumers had not been harmed. Now, it’s time for British lawyers to try their hand at squeezing money out of Google before the High Court in London.
As the case heads to court, the plaintiffs’ lawyers are using a nationalist press release to drum up support from hometown media — and getting it in spades. At least two respected news outlets have published blaring headlines suggesting that Google thinks it’s above the law.
“Google will not answer to British court over UK privacy claim,” claims the Guardian, suggesting that the search giant thinks beleaguered Britons must head to California to seek justice. Other outlets have piled on too:
“Google says it should not be tried in UK courts for allegedly tracking British citizens,” according to the Independent, which likewise repeats allegations that Google thinks it is beyond the jurisdiction of Britain’s courts.
No one has published Google’s actual argument but, on the face of it, the press claims appear preposterous: Google can’t impose California law on Britons anymore than BP can impose British law on the oil-soaked beaches of Louisiana. What Google is arguing instead is that the High Court should not hear the case because the cookie controversy doesn’t meet the legal standards of a case that should go to trial. In an email statement, also cited by the Guardian, a Google spokesperson wrote:
“A case almost identical to this one was dismissed in its entirety two months ago in the US. We’re asking the court to re-examine whether this case meets the standards required in the UK for a case like this to go to trial.”
This makes it clear that Google is simply pointing to the California decision in support of its argument that the case should be thrown out — which is very different from saying that the High Court has no authority over Google in the first place.
But about Google’s decision to hack Safari browsers? Is that a legal line that should be punished through payments to iPhone users? That’s a question that the UK court will decide in the coming months. In the meantime, Google may want to grab some aspirin for as the British press subjects it to an ongoing trial by media.