If people felt unable to entrust their personal data to operators of mobile phone apps and websites, the wheels of e-commerce would simply cease to turn. Hackers are, however, ever present and, as a High Court case showed, they pose a constant threat to both individuals and online traders.
The case concerned a group action brought against an airline following a cyber-attack which was said to have compromised its website and mobile app. Thousands of claimants alleged that, due to an absence of appropriate security and safeguarding measures, hackers had obtained access to identifiable customer data, including payment card details.
The airline was said to have breached the contractual and confidentiality obligations it owed to its customers together with its legal duties under the General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679. Claimants were variously said to have suffered harm in the form of distress, financial loss and loss of control of their data. The airline denied the claims in their entirety.
At a preliminary hearing, the claimants sought an extension of the cut-off date by which individuals were required to join in the group action. More than 20,000 people had already done so, largely thanks to an advertising campaign funded by solicitors. However, that represented only a small fraction of the 500,000 or so individuals who were said to be eligible to seek compensation.
In granting a two-month extension of the cut-off date, the Court balanced the rights of individuals to have access to justice against the airline’s entitlement to know with at least some degree of certainty the extent of its potential financial exposure in the event of the group action succeeding. The relatively brief extension would provide time for a recent burst of advertising by the solicitors to bear fruit.
The solicitors had spent £443,000 on publicising the group action and intended to spend a further £557,000. In ruling that advertising costs could not be recovered from the airline, however, the Court found that they were essentially general overheads more accurately described as an expense of getting in business.