$5bn lawsuit claims that Google tracks private browsing

3 Jun 2020

Image: © ymgerman/Stock.adobe.com

A $5bn lawsuit filed against Google is accusing the company of invading user privacy by tracking activity in Incognito mode.

On Tuesday (2 June), a class action lawsuit was filed against Google in California, claiming that the company violated US federal wiretap laws by collecting information about users while they were in private browsing mode. Google has denied the claims.

According to the New York Times, the lawsuit claims that Google intercepts the contents of communication between users and websites, and collects browsing history and search queries, even if they are in Chrome’s Incognito mode.

Incognito mode, similar to the private browsing tools offered on other web browsers, enables users to search the internet without their activity or history being saved to a browser or device.

Google lawsuit

The lawsuit is looking for at least $5bn from Google and its parent company, Alphabet, for invading user privacy. The suit claims that Google also violated a Californian law that requires consent of all parties to read or learn the contents of private communication.

The complaint was filed by law firm Boies Schiller Flexner on behalf of three people with Google accounts: Chasom Brown and Maria Nguyen who live in Los Angeles, and William Byatt who lives in Florida.

According to the lawsuit, even when a user opts for private browsing, the tech giant uses other tracking tools it provides to website publishers and advertisers to keep track of what websites users are visiting.

Mark C Mao, a partner from Boies Schiller Flexner, said: “Google tracks and collects consumer browsing history and other web activity data no matter what safeguards consumers undertake to protect their data privacy.”

Boies Schiller Flexner said that the proposed class action will likely include “millions” of Google users who have used Chrome’s Incognito mode since 1 June 2016.

Google’s response

Google has denied the claims, with spokesperson Jose Castaneda saying that the company will defend itself “vigorously against them”.

“Incognito mode in Chrome gives you the choice to browse the internet without your activity being saved to your browser or device,” he said. “As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity during your session.”

The company said that the collection of search history helps website owners to “better evaluate the performance of their content, products, marketing and more”.

In the filing against the company, Boies Schiller Flexner said: “People everywhere are becoming more aware (and concerned) that their personal communications are being intercepted, collected, recorded or exploited for gain by technology companies they have come to depend on.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic