Google is facing a legal battle from iPhone users in the UK who claim their online browsing habits were secretly tracked by the internet giant.
The landmark case could pave the way for up to 10 million Britons to sue Google for alleged privacy breaches.
A group of 12 people, all of whom use Apple devices, including the popular iPhone, are seeking damages in a case thought to be the first of its kind in the UK.
They say that cookies, small tracking files, were installed by Google on the Apple computers and mobile devices of those using the Safari internet browser without their knowledge.
One example given by law firm Olswang – which is bringing the case – is that a person carrying out an internet search for an engagement ring could find that their partner, when using the same device, later encounters adverts for rings when browsing online.
Claimants thought that cookies would be blocked because of assurances given by Google in the time their devices were allegedly affected, from summer 2011 to spring 2012, and also because of Safari’s default settings.
Dan Tench, a partner at Olswang, said: ‘Google has a responsibility to consumers and should be accountable for the trust placed in them.
‘We hope that they will take this opportunity to give Safari users a proper explanation about what happened, to apologise and, where appropriate, compensate the victims of their intrusion.’
Judith Vidal-Hall, former editor of magazine Index on Censorship, has issued proceedings against Google after claiming they had covertly tracked her use of the internet.
The 74-year-old said: ‘Google claims it does not collect personal data but doesn’t say who decides what information is ‘personal’.
‘Whether something is private or not should be up to the internet surfer, not Google. We are best placed to decide, not them.”
A campaigning group, called Safari Users Against Google’s Secret Tracking, has been set up on Facebook and Olswang believes it could prompt others to come forward to take action.
It is estimated there were 10 million users of Apple products in the UK at the relevant time.
Last year, Google was fined $22.5m dollars (£14.2m) in the US for using tracking cookies on Safari.