Google Says Breach-of-Privacy Lawsuit Can’t Be Heard in U.K.

Google Inc. sought to block a U.K. lawsuit by a group of Internet users who say the the world’s biggest search-engine company breached their privacy.

At a London hearing today, the Mountain View, California-based company said the lawsuit shouldn’t be heard in the U.K. and sought an order “declaring that the court has no jurisdiction to try the claims,” according to its court papers.

The claimants argue that Google overrode settings for Apple Inc.’s Safari browser using cookies, pieces of code that track Internet usage. Google has “an institutionalized disregard for both the privacy of billions of individual users and for the regulatory regimes of the countries in which it operates,” lawyers for the group said in court documents.

Google reached a $17 million settlement with 37 U.S. states last month over its circumvention of privacy settings for Safari users. The company halted the coding method in February 2012 after the practice was reported in the media.

Judith Vidal-Hall, a self-employed editor and one of the three U.K. claimants, said in a statement before the hearing that Google had a substantial presence in the U.K. “It is ludicrous for it to claim that, despite all of this very commercial activity, it won’t answer to our courts,” she said.

The cookies allowed Google to see information about users’ race, political and religious beliefs, sexuality and financial situation, lawyers for the claimants said in court documents. Its actions “are likely to have affected millions of users in the U.K. and around the world.”

“A case almost identical to this one was dismissed in its entirety two months ago in the U.S.,” Google said an e-mailed statement. “We’re asking the court to re-examine whether this case meets the standards required in the U.K. for a case like this to go to trial.”

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