$5 Billion Google Lawsuit Over 'Incognito Mode' Tracking Moves Closer to Trial

A California judge has denied Google's request for summary judgement in a class action lawsuit alleging that it secretly tracked the online activity of Chrome users even when they were using the browser in its privacy-oriented Incognito mode (via The Verge).

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The lawsuit was filed in June 2020 by users alleging that Google hoovers up user data in Incognito mode through Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager and other applications and website plug-ins, including smartphone apps, whether or not users click on Google-supported ads.

The plaintiffs claim that Google is therefore deceiving customers into believing that they have control over the information they share with the company when they use Chrome's private browsing mode, and in doing so, violates federal wiretap laws.

In denying Google's request, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez-Rogers referred to statements in the Chrome privacy notice, Privacy Policy, Incognito Splash Screen, and Search & Browse Privately Help page suggesting that incognito mode limits the information stored or how people can control the information they share:

The Court is guided by the way that Google itself chose to represent its private browsing mode: Google told users that they could 'go Incognito' and 'browse privately.' By browsing privately, plaintiffs could be said to have asserted their expectation of privacy. Google is welcome to make the counterargument at trial.

Google has not shown, as a matter of law, that all parties consented to it recording the communications here and therefore summary judgment is not appropriate.

According to the plaintiffs, the lawsuit likely covers "millions" of Google users who since June 1, 2016 browsed the internet using Incognito mode. The proposed class action therefore seeks $5,000 in damages per user for violations of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws, amounting to at least $5 billion.

Google has said it will defend itself "vigorously' against the claims. The company has previously unsuccessfully attempted to have the case thrown out by arguing that the plaintiffs consented to its privacy policy, which the company said explicitly discloses its data protection practices. Google's denied request for summary judgement now moves the case closer toward settlement or a trial.

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Top Rated Comments

wallinbl Avatar
11 months ago

They’ve had warning/explanatory messages on the startup window on incognito for so long, I doubt this will go very far/amount to much. People not bothering to read is the real problem.
No, "people not bothering to read" is not the real problem. The problem is the 200 page EULAs and the deliberate obfuscation of company behavior that's pervasive. Companies know people don't want this stuff done, which is why they go to great lengths to hide it.

Facebook's app shouldn't prompt a EULA as much as just say "We're lifting every piece of data we can access on your phone. If we later find more data, we're going to take that as well." It would at least be honest, and then you could say that people opted in.

But, most people aren't lawyers and can't understand or distill down the BS "agreements" companies expect them to enter into. It's dishonest to pretend otherwise.
Score: 50 Votes (Like | Disagree)
randolorian Avatar
11 months ago
Moral of the story: Don't use Chrome.
Score: 42 Votes (Like | Disagree)
breather Avatar
11 months ago
Google makes the bulk of their money by selling ads.

They target their ads with precision by collecting all the data they can on it's users.

This it their business model, thinking they will respect privacy is laughable.
Score: 30 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Mac Fly (film) Avatar
11 months ago
Class action law is broken. Lawyers get all the real money.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
IIGS User Avatar
11 months ago

If you want to go down this road, let's blame the education system for not teaching the importance of reading. Everyone has a choice to research before blindly jumping. The info, agreements and explainers are all there.

You also have a societal problem where a majority of people can't be bothered to read a single sentence before hitting buttons.

Hate on companies all you want–I'm not justifying their practices–but the issue isn't what they do, it's that people don't care enough to read.
No, that's human nature that companies exploit, and it's been going on longer than computers were around.

You show me the number of people you know who read the entire contract to buy/finance a car or refinance their mortgage and I can guarantee you won't need more than one digit to count them all.

If you read every wall of text that was put in front of you on a weekly basis, chances are you wouldn't get anything else done. Heck, most people don't even read the instructions anymore. Look at the wall of text that comes up when you enroll a card in Apple Pay. Or when you sign up for the Dunkin Donuts app, or buy an airline ticket, etc.

No one has the time to read all that nonsense, and companies know it. So they sneak stuff in there that they know people most likely wouldn't agree with if they actually read it, hoping no one would ever read it.

Then they get their pantaloons in a knot when someone notices. Are the lawyers getting most of the money? Probably. Oh well, maybe that will deter some of these companies from engaging in shady business practices.
Score: 15 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Spaceboi Scaphandre Avatar
11 months ago
Man I love being a FireFox user. I can just sit back and enjoy the show

Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)