Lawyers in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec have filed proposed class-action lawsuits in the three provinces against Google and its parent Alphabet Inc. on behalf of millions of Canadians, alleging the company unlawfully collects and profits from personal information without their consent.
The claim alleges that through Google Services, Google Ads and Google Analytics the company “turns Canadians’ electronics into tracking devices, which it uses to build profiles on almost every Internet user in Canada; even people Google has no relationship with, all without their consent,” Luciana Brasil, partner at the Vancouver firm of Branch MacMaster LLP, said in a press release. “There is no reason Canadians should tolerate what we say is extensive surveillance of their daily online activities, especially because Canada has laws specifically intended to protect them from such actions.”
The claim also alleges that Google violates consumer protection and competition laws by misrepresenting its privacy and data practices.
In an interview today Brasil said that “one of the key issues is whether what online users are told about personal information being collected is accurate and sufficient.”
Even if a user has no relationship with Google — doesn’t use the Chrome browser or Gmail, for example — information on their device may be collected by a site that uses Google Analytics or Google Ads, she said. “So my computer is being told to do something by somebody with whom I have had no relationship without my knowledge and without any opportunity to give consent. That to me is such a clear case. That flies in the face of the argument that there is always consent and people always know what is being provided. I am fairly confident that most people haven’t the foggiest idea that this is going on.”
“So why is that I should provide that information? It’s not my job to help Google … They say it helps serve you better. It’s not to serve me better. It’s to find out what I do and to try to figure out what I want to buy and make suggestions to me. It’s to try and extract a monetary value from (my) information.”
The grounds of the three suits are similar although they reference alleged violations of their respective provincial laws as well as federal privacy law. It isn’t clear if they will be merged into one suit or will proceed separately. “Despite some local differences to account for local practices and laws, in particular in Quebec, counsel who filed the claims in Quebec, Ontario and B.C, are working together and are part of a consortium of counsel prosecuting the Canadian claims on a co-ordinated basis,” said Brasil. “As for how the actions will proceed, each action is subject to case-management by independent judges, so ultimately that is subject to the discretion of the courts, but there are efficiencies to be gained if all parties co-operate.”
IT World Canada has asked for comment from Alphabet.
The statement of claim alleges Google doesn’t require the operators of web sites running Google Ads or Google Analytics to obtain consent from people whose personal information is collected by Google when users visit a site, or disclose to
users that their personal information has been collected.
“By virtue of Google’s high-handed conduct and its disregard for the quasi-constitutional privacy rights of class members, the plaintiff asks this court to award exemplary and punitive damages against Google, in an amount deemed appropriate by this Court at trial,” the statement of claim says in part.
In addition, it alleges complainants have suffered “damage to, among other things, their pride, self-respect and reputation.”
Reidar Mogerman, partner at the Vancouver firm of Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman LLP and one of the firms joined in the claim said in a news release that “Google tells its users that they have a choice about how Google uses their information, but we don’t believe that users have a choice about whether or not Google collects their information in the first place, The claim alleges this is misleading advertising and is a direct violation of consumer protection law.”
Jonathan Foreman, partner at the London, Ont., firm of Foreman & Company, said in a statement that “internet-based companies doing business in Canada have to follow Canadian privacy, competition and consumer protection laws. This case aims to rein in what we say is rampant collection of personal information and to make sure Canadians’ privacy rights are protected.”
The claim seeks compensation for invasion of privacy, trespass, and consumer protection violations, and other causes of action. It also seeks an order preventing Google from continuing these practices.
A class-action lawsuit has to be approved by a judge before it can go forward. No date for a hearing has been set yet. The claim is brought on behalf of residents of Canada who used Google services or visited websites containing Google Ads or Google Analytics.
The statement to the press says the action involves data collected by Google’s own services and through Google Ads and Google Analytics, which are installed on more than half of global websites. It alleges Google trespasses on users’ devices by sending code to their computers, tablets, or smartphones when they visit any of these thousands of sites or services. That code allegedly forces users’ computers or smartphones to secretly send users’ personal information to Google, including details such as their name, gender, and location, the terms they’ve typed into Google, their IP address, the device they’re using, and the site they’re visiting. This allegedly reveals sensitive personal details, such as marital and parental status, income bracket, and sexual orientation.
Google uses this personal information to generate profiles of almost all internet users, the claim alleges. It uses some of this information to target advertising, the claim alleges, without the users’ knowledge or consent, in violation of Canadian laws that protect privacy and personal interests.
collect and use across our services.”
However, the statement of claim says, “despite these representations, and no matter what settings Class Members choose, the
settings do not prevent Google’s collection and use of the Personal Information for its own business purposes, the creation of a Profile about the Class Member, or the monetization of the Personal Information.”
The B.C. action follows a separate proposed class-action lawsuit filed in July in Quebec alleging Google misrepresented to users how much control they have over the information they share when they browse the web using incognito mode. It alleges that regardless of the browsing mode chosen, Google collects users’ browsing data without consent.
The Quebec action seeks an order requiring Google to pay class members a sum equal to the value of the data collected while class members were using incognito mode, and $50 million in punitive damages.