Lloyd v Google. More on the tort gateway and ‘damage’ under data protection law.

The UK Supreme Court in Lloyd v Google [2021] UKSC 50 held a few weeks back. It allowed the appeal, meaning the Court of Appeal‘s judgment is no longer good law and the High Court‘s approach is now the rule. The judgment essentially means that loss of control over private data is not considered ‘damage’ within the data protection Act 1998. The issue is one of statutory interpretation: on its proper interpretation, the SC understands the term “damage” in s. 13 to mean material damage (financial loss for instance) or mental distress, and not just unlawful processing. Loss of control therefore may still play a role in the common law tort of misuse of private information, and ‘damage’ was of course also considered flexibly in the context of consequential losses (Brownlie).

On class actions, the SC’s judgment is a set-back, too, with the judgment [80] holding

What limits the scope for claiming damages in representative proceedings is the compensatory principle on which damages for a civil wrong are awarded with the object of putting the claimant – as an individual – in the same position, as best money can do it, as if the wrong had not occurred. In the ordinary course, this necessitates an individualised assessment which raises no common issue and cannot fairly or effectively be carried out without the participation in the proceedings of the individuals concerned. A representative  action is therefore not a suitable vehicle for such an exercise.

Geert.

 

Lloyd v Google. Court of Appeal overturns High Court, establishes jurisdiction viz US defendant. Takes a wider approach to loss of control over personal (browser-generated information) data constituting ‘damage’.

Update 4 June 2021 see a reference by the Austrian Supreme Court here, on the issue of whether loss of date control constitutes damage.

Update 16 July 2020 the Supreme Court has granted leave to appeal.

I reported earlier on Lloyd v Google at the High Court. The case involves Google’s alleged unlawful and clandestine tracking of iPhone users in 2011 and 2012 without their consent through the use of third party cookies.

The Court of Appeal in [2019] EWCA Civ 1599 has now overturned the High Court’s approach, nota bene just a day before the CJEU’s Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek v Facebook judgment.

Warby J in  [2018] EWHC 2599 (QB) Lloyd v Google (a class action suit with third party financing) had rejected jurisdiction against Google Inc (domiciled in the US) following careful consideration (and distinction) of the Vidal Hall (‘Safari users) precedent. In essence, Warby J held that both EU law (reference is made to CJEU precedent under Directive 90/314) and national law tends to suggest that “damage” has been extended in various contexts to cover “non-material damage” but only on the proviso that “genuine quantifiable damage has occurred”. This did not mean that misuse of personal data could not be disciplined under data protection laws (typically: by the data protection authorities) or other relevant national courses of action. But where it entails a non-EU domiciled party, and the jurisdictional gateway of ‘tort’ is to be followed, ‘damage’ has to be shown.

The Court of Appeal has now overturned. A first question it considered was whether control over data is an asset that has value. Sir Geoffrey Vos C at 47 held ‘a person’s control over data or over their BGI (browser-generated information, GAVC) does have a value, so that the loss of that control must also have a value’. Sir Geoffrey did not even have to resort to metanalysis to support this:  at 46: ‘The underlying reality of this case is that Google was able to sell BGI collected from numerous individuals to advertisers who wished to target them with their advertising. That confirms that such data, and consent to its use, has an economic value.’ And at 57: ‘the EU law principles of equivalence and effectiveness (‘effet utile’, GAVC) point to the same approach being adopted to the legal definition of damage in the two torts which both derive from a common European right to privacy.’

(The remainder of the judgment concerns issues of reflection of damage on the class).

Conclusion: permission granted to serve the proceedings on Google outside the jurisdiction of the court.

All in all an important few days for digital media corporations.

Geert.

Lloyd v Google. High Court rejects jurisdiction viz US defendant, interprets ‘damage’ in the context of data protection narrowly.

Update 11 December 2018 leave to appeal applied for.

Warby J in  [2018] EWHC 2599 (QB) Lloyd v Google (a class action suit with third party financing) considers, and rejects, jurisdiction against Google Inc (domiciled in the US) following careful consideration (and distinction) of the Vidal Hall (‘Safari users) precedent.

Of note is that the jurisdictional gateway used is the one in tort, which requires among others an indication of damage. In Vidal Hall, Warby J emphasises, that damage consisted of specific material loss or emotional harm which claimants had detailed in confidential court findings (all related to Google’s former Safari turnaround, which enabled Google to set the DoubleClick Ad cookie on a device, without the user’s knowledge or consent, immediately, whenever the user visited a website that contained DoubleClick Ad content.

In essence, Warby J suggests that both EU law (reference is made to CJEU precedent under Directive 90/314) and national law tends to suggest that “damage” has been extended in various contexts to cover “non-material damage” but only on the proviso that “genuine quantifiable damage has occurred”.

Wrapping up, at 74: “Not everything that happens to a person without their prior consent causes significant or any distress. Not all such events are even objectionable, or unwelcome. Some people enjoy a surprise party. Not everybody objects to every non-consensual disclosure or use of private information about them. Lasting relationships can be formed on the basis of contact first made via a phone number disclosed by a mutual friend, without asking first. Some are quite happy to have their personal information collected online, and to receive advertising or marketing or other information as a result. Others are indifferent. Neither category suffers from “loss of control” in the same way as someone who objects to such use of their information, and neither in my judgment suffers any, or any material, diminution in the value of their right to control the use of their information. Both classes would have consented if asked. In short, the question of whether or not damage has been sustained by an individual as a result of the non-consensual use of personal data about them must depend on the facts of the case. The bare facts pleaded in this case, which are in no way individualised, do not in my judgment assert any case of harm to the value of any claimant’s right of autonomy that amounts to “damage”…”

The judgment does not mean that misuse of personal data cannot be disciplined under data protection laws (typically: by the data protection authorities) or other relevant national courses of action. But where it entails a non-EU domiciled party, and the jurisdictional gateway of ‘tort’ is to be followed, ‘damage’ has to be shown.

Geert.

 

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