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Google UK ruling: Search giant can be sued in Internet privacy case

Google has promised to fight a decision by the UK High Court which means it can be sued for breaching UK privacy laws despite being based in the US.

The web giant was branded "arrogant and immoral" back in December for trying to dodge a court case brought against it by a pressure group of concerned British Internet users, who accused the company of collecting large amounts of personal data without their consent.

The company claimed that the complaint was not serious enough to be heard by a UK court, but should be filed as a lawsuit in the state of California, where Google is headquartered.

However the presiding High Court Judge, Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled that the UK courts were the "appropriate jurisdiction" to try the claims.

"I am satisfied that there is a serious issue to be tried in each of the claimant's claims for misuse of private information," Justice Tugendhat said this morning. "The claimants have clearly established that this jurisdiction is the appropriate one in which to try each of the above claims."

A spokesperson for Google replied, vehemently denying the legitimacy of the decision: "A case almost identical to this one was dismissed in its entirety three months ago in the US. We still don't think that this case meets the standards required in the UK for it to go to trial, and we'll be appealing today's ruling."

The claim relates to data collection that allegedly took place between 2011 and 2012. The group filing the claim, called Safari Users Against Google's Secret Tracking, claimed that Google tracked users' browsing habits during late 2011 and early 2012, using the acquired data to serve them targeted advertising through their DoubleClick advertising service.

Google has got into trouble in the past for collecting data from its users. In August it was hit with a record $22.5 million (£13.8 million) fine in the US after being found guilty of circumventing security settings on the iPad, iPhone, Mac and Safari browser in order to collect user data for advertising.

The company paid out a further $17 million (£10.5 million) in November in order to settle another claim, although Google claims that the plaintiffs suffered no actual harm when they were mistakenly tracked.

When the claims were first brought, Judith Vidal-Hall, one of the claimants and former editor of Index On Censorship magazine, said: "If consumers are based in the UK and English laws are abused, the perpetrator must be held to account here, not in a jurisdiction that might suit them better. Google's approach that British consumers should travel all the way to California to seek redress for its wrongdoings is arrogant, immoral and a disgrace."

If it holds up, the new ruling could represent a precedent for other US internet firms that service UK customers.