Commentary

Revenge Of The Brit -- 5.4m iPhone Users Say 'Google You Owe Us'

Google probably thought it couldn't get any worse, but today the news is everywhere. It's the equivalent of Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) that has cost the banks billions, and all us iPhone users affected are already enrolled -- we don't even have to sign up or text a number to see if we have been affected.

The "Google You Owe Us" campaign has served legal papers over the tech giant's "Safari Workaround" which, the group claims, gleaned browsing data from Safari, even though the default setting was for it not to be shared. The former director at consumer group Which has told the BBC that he believes it's a very strong case in which each iPhone user in the UK affected should get "hundreds of pounds."

Sky News elaborates today that some 5.4m iPhone users in Britain could be affected, although the news channel is estimating the average person will get around GBP200 each, leaving Google with a bill of around a billion pounds.

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Google's silence on the matter has so far been deafening. Perhaps it isn't too sure what to say now that Britain has learned how to take on a giant in the fashion of a US class action? Perhaps the tech giant is licking its wounds, wondering if it could get any worse.

After being dealt a €2.7bn fine for favouring its own companies' search results over competitors from the European Commission this summer, it was soon warned again that a further fine is unlikely over allegations of anti-competitive restraints that discourage brands using its advertising network, AdSense, from using competitor networks.

There is yet another -- and so a third -- potentially massive fine in the pipeline over Google's alleged abuse of its power over the Android operating system, although the investigation has been pushed back to 2018. The latter looks to me like it is effectively a rerun of Microsoft's anti-trust case over abuse of its Windows monopoly, only this time we're talking mobile and Android.

Trust me -- the way things are in the EU now, it's highly likely that billions of Euros worth of fines will follow this summer's opening salvo, both in the AdSense case and then, eventually, the Android investigation. Then we also have the class action brought on behalf of around 5m British iPhone users.

Google will find it has very few friends left in the EU, particularly the UK. After amassing billions of dollars worth of ad sales here, its smart accountants have found a way to spirit money away so it is taxed under a different jurisdiction. Google can claim it is legal, and they probably have a point. The trouble is that everyone will make a moral judgement on the tech giant which ends up paying so little tax in the UK that it could be described as negligible against the billions this country provides it in revenue -- and which it, by definition, takes away from other home-grown media companies.

So, to coin the Queen's famous phrase from a few years back, 2017 looks bad enough, but 2018 has all the hallmarks of being a "annus horribilis" for Google. All the UK public can say is -- good.

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