Google is facing a class-action lawsuit that argues that the company has been deceiving Google Chrome users into believing that their browsing activity is not being tracked when they switch to Incognito Mode on the Google Chrome web browser. Filed on 2 June 2020 by Boies Schiller & Flexner, the lawsuit states that Google illegally violated and invaded the privacy of millions of users who use its Google Chrome browser by tracking their wen activity even though it was supposed to be private.
Although the lawsuit only names three plaintiffs, it is reported that they believe that the lawsuit represents millions of Google Chrome users who have been browsing the web using the web browser's Incognito Mode since 1 June 2016. Furthermore, the lawsuit argues that as a result of this alleged deception, Google violated California privacy laws as well as federal wiretapping laws. As such, they request that each Google Chrome user awarded $5,000 in damages by the company.
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"As discussed in more detail below, Google tracks and collects consumer browsing history and other web activity data no matter what safeguards consumers undertake to protect their data privacy. Indeed, even when Google users launch a web browser with “private browsing mode” activated (as Google recommends to users wishing to browse the web privately), Google nevertheless tracks the users’ browsing data and other identifying information," reads part of the lawsuit.
"Google accomplishes its surreptitious tracking through means that include: Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager, and various other application and website plug-ins, such as Google applications on mobile devices and the “Google Sign-In button” for websites. When an internet user visits a webpage or opens an app that uses such services (over 70% of all online publishers use such a service), Google receives detailed, personal information such as the user’s IP address (which may provide geographic information), what the user is viewing, what the user last viewed, and details about the user’s hardware. Google takes the data regardless of whether the user actually clicks on a Google-supported advertisement—or even knows of its existence. This means that billions of times a day, Google causes computers around the world to report the real-time internet communications of hundreds of millions of people to Google."
This lawsuit and the allegations being made are very serious. Also concerning is how, possibly, Google is using its separate services that are not necessarily liked to each other from a user's perspective to collate that data and identify users' personal information and web browsing activities.
Google has come out to make it clear that it will defend itself against the allegations.
"Incognito mode in Chrome gives you the choice to browse the internet without your activity being saved to your browser or device. As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity," said a Google spokesperson.
Despite what Google's spokesperson has said, many users who have used Incognito Mode have always believed it meant that their web browsing activity is not being tracked. At minimum, Google has engaged in deceptive behaviour because when you open Incognito Mode, it clearly states "Now you can browse privately, and other people who use this device won't see your activity. However, downloads and bookmarks will be saved."
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