Google Inc v Vidal-Hall & Ors, Court of Appeal - Civil Division, March 27, 2015, [2015] EWCA Civ 311

Issuing Organization:Civil Division
Actores:Google Inc v Vidal-Hall & Ors
Resolution Date:March 27, 2015

Case No: A2/2014/0403

Neutral Citation Number: [2015] EWCA Civ 311




The Hon. Mr Justice Tugendhat

[2014] EWHC 13 (QB)

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 27/03/2015

Before :





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Between :

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Antony White QC and Catrin Evans (instructed by Bristows LLP) for the Defendant

Hugh Tomlinson QC and Ben Silverstone (instructed by Olswang LLP) for the Claimants

Anya Proops and Julian Milford (instructed by the Information Commissioner's Office) for the Intervener

Hearing dates : 8 December 2014, 2-3 March 2015

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The Master of the Rolls and Lady Justice Sharp:


  1. The appeal in this case raises two important issues of law. The first is whether the cause of action for misuse of private information is a tort, specifically for the purposes of the rules providing for service of proceedings out of the jurisdiction. The second is the meaning of damage in section 13 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (the DPA); in particular, whether there can be a claim for compensation without pecuniary loss.

    The claims in outline

  2. The claimants are three individuals who used Apple computers between the summer of 2011 and about 17 February 2012. Each of them accessed the internet using their Apple Safari browser.

  3. The case concerns the operation of what has become known as the `Safari workaround'. The essence of the complaint is that the defendant collected private information about the claimants' internet usage via their Apple Safari browser (the Browser-Generated Information, or `BGI') without the claimants' knowledge and consent, by using a small string of text saved on the user's device (`cookies'). This allowed the defendant to recognise the browser sending the BGI. The BGI was then aggregated and used by the defendant as part of its commercial offering to advertisers via its `doubleclick' advertising service. This meant advertisers could select advertisements targeted or tailored to the claimants' interests, as deduced from the collected BGI, which could be and were displayed on the screens of the claimants' computer devices. This revealed private information about the claimants, which was or might have been seen by third parties. The tracking and collation of the claimants' BGI was contrary to the defendant's publicly stated position that such activity could not be conducted for Safari users unless they had expressly allowed it to happen.

  4. On 12 June 2013, the claimants began proceedings against the defendant. The Particulars of Claim are divided into sections. There is a general section relating to all three claimants, followed by two specific sections for each claimant, one open and one confidential. The pleaded causes of action in each case are misuse of private information, breach of confidence and breach of the DPA. These matters, and some of the technical terms used, are explained in more detail in extracts from the pleaded case, attached to this judgment as an appendix. The information obtained in relation to each claimant is set out in detail in the confidential schedules to the `claimant specific' Particulars of Claim. The information falls into a number of the categories specified in para 7.5 of the Particulars of Claim: see Appendix.

  5. The claimants allege in respect of their claims for misuse of private information and/or breach of confidence, that their personal dignity, autonomy and integrity were damaged, and claim damages for anxiety and distress. In respect of their claims under the DPA, they claim compensation under section 13 of the DPA for damage and distress. In neither case is there a claim for pecuniary loss. The specific matters relied on by the claimants in support of their individual damages/compensation claims are set out in the claimant specific Particulars of Claim. There is also a claim for aggravated damages on the basis, amongst other matters, that the defendant ought to have been aware of the operation of the Safari workaround during the period relevant to these claims, or was aware of it and chose to do nothing about it.

    The jurisdictional question

  6. The claimants are domiciled in England. The defendant is a corporation registered in Delaware and has its principal place of business in California. The claimants therefore had to obtain the permission of the court pursuant to CPR 6.36 and Practice Direction (PD) 6B to serve the proceedings on the defendant in California.

  7. To obtain that permission, the claimants had to establish (i) that there was a serious issue to be tried on the merits of their claims i.e. that the claims raised substantial issues of fact or law or both; (ii) that there was a good arguable case that their claims came within one of the jurisdictional `gateways' set out in CPR PD 6B; (iii) that in all the circumstances, England was clearly or distinctly the appropriate forum for the trial of the dispute, and (iv) that in all the circumstances, the court ought to exercise its discretion to permit service of the proceedings out of the jurisdiction (see Altimo Holdings and Investment Ltd v Kyrgyz Mobil Tel Ltd [2011] UKPC 7; [2012] 1 WLR 1804).

  8. CPR PD 6B provides in part that:

    ``3.1 The claimant may serve a claim form out of the jurisdiction with the permission of the court under CPR 6.36 where -

    (2) A claim is made for an injunction ordering the defendant to do or refrain from doing an act within the jurisdiction...

    (9) A claim is made in tort where - (a) damage was sustained within the jurisdiction; or (b) the damage sustained resulted from an act committed within the jurisdiction...

    (11) The whole subject matter of a claim relates to property located within the jurisdiction...

    (16) A claim is made for restitution where the defendant's alleged liability arises out of acts committed within the jurisdiction...''

  9. The claimants' application for permission to serve out of the jurisdiction relied on the `injunction' and `tort' gateways in CPR PD 6B paras 3.1(2) and 3.1(9) for the claims for misuse of private information and for breach of confidence; and, initially at least, on the `injunction' gateway only in respect of the claim under the DPA.

  10. On 12 June 2013, Master Yoxall granted the claimants permission to serve the claim on the defendant out of the jurisdiction. On 12 August 2013, the defendant applied under CPR r 11 for an order declaring that the court did not have jurisdiction to try the claims, alternatively that it should not exercise jurisdiction it did have; and for an order setting aside the order of Master Yoxall and service of the claim form. The application was made on the ground that there was no good arguable case that the claims came within paragraphs CPR PD 6B 3.1(2) and 3.1(9); further or alternatively, that there was no serious issue to be tried in relation to any of the claims and/or the claimants had not shown that England was the more appropriate forum.

  11. On 16 December 2013, at the start of the hearing of the defendant's application to set aside, the claimants applied for permission to rely on the `tort' gateway in CPR PD 6B para 3.1(9) in relation to the DPA claim. The claimants also applied for permission to rely on two further grounds for service out of the jurisdiction: CPR PD 6B paras 3.1(11) and paras 3.1(16). The defendant accepted that the claim under the DPA was a claim in tort, but objected to this further application generally on the grounds of lateness.

    The judge's decision in summary

  12. The judge dismissed the applications to set aside permission to serve the claim form out of the jurisdiction in respect of the claims for misuse of private information and under the DPA and granted declarations that the court had jurisdiction to try both claims. He concluded that the claimants had clearly established that this jurisdiction was the appropriate one in which to try both claims. He declared the court had no jurisdiction to try the claims for an injunction or the claims for breach of confidence, and the claim form and Particulars of Claim, in respect of those claims, were set aside. More specifically:

    (i) The judge decided he was bound by the decision in Kitechnology BV v Unicor GmbH Plastmachinen [1995] FSR 765 to hold that breach of confidence was not a tort, but he held that misuse of private information was a tort for the purposes of the rules governing service out of the jurisdiction. He also held that `damage' in CPR PD 6B para 3.1(9) meant damage that was recoverable for the tort in question, and included damages for distress, recoverable in a claim for misuse of personal information. It followed that the claimants' claims for misuse of private information fell within CPR PD 6B para 3.1(9)(a). In any event, the judge said this claim would have fallen within CPR PD 6B para 3.1(9)(b) because the damage resulted from an act committed within the jurisdiction, namely the publication of the advertisements on the claimants' screens. He held further that the claimants had established that there were serious issues to be tried as to whether the relevant information was "private'' information;

    (ii) The judge gave the claimants permission to rely on CPR PD 6B para 3.1(9) in respect of the DPA claim. There is no appeal against that order. The judge held there were serious issues to be tried (a) that the claimants' claims for compensation under section 13 of the DPA did not require proof of pecuniary loss; and therefore that there was a good arguable claim for compensation under that section; and (b) that the BGI constituted personal data for the purposes of the DPA claim;

    (iii) The judge decided the claimants had a real and substantial cause of action in their claims for misuse of private information and under the DPA, and it would not be just to set aside service on the grounds that `the game...

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