Google faces lawsuit over ‘tracking users’ in incognito mode

Judge warns tech giant ‘did not notify users that Google engages in the alleged data collection while the user is in private browsing mode’

Anthony Cuthbertson
Monday 15 March 2021 17:02
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<p>A Chrome logo seen behind Google CEO Sundar Pichai in San Francisco on 28 June, 2012</p>

A Chrome logo seen behind Google CEO Sundar Pichai in San Francisco on 28 June, 2012

A US judge has ruled that Google must face a lawsuit alleging that it tracks its users, even when they use Incognito mode in the Chrome browser.

The browsing mode claims to offer users the ability to use the internet without Google collecting search history, cookies and other website data. It does however state that web activity may still be visible to “websites that you visit, your employer or school” and “your internet service provider”.

A $5 billion class action lawsuit filed last June claimed that Google is a “pervasive data tracking business” despite privacy features, however the technology giant attempted to have the case thrown out.

The complaint alleged that Google gathers data through Google Analytics and other applications and plug-ins, regardless of the browsing mode used.

Information gathered includes the “most intimate and potentially embarrassing things”, the complaint states, and is collected from “virtually every American with a computer or phone”.

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US District Judge Lucy Koh ruled that Google must face the lawsuit, writing that the firm “did not notify users that Google engages in the alleged data collection while the user is in private browsing mode.”

Google spokesperson said the company would defend itself against the claims.

“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 lawsuit seeks at least $5,000 of damages per user, citing federal wiretapping an California privacy laws.

Earlier this month, Google announced that it would not develop new ways to track users across the internet after phasing out current ad tracking technology in its Chrome browser.

“Today, we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products,” David Temkin, Google’s director of product management for ads privacy and trust, wrote in a blog post.

“Keeping the internet open and accessible for everyone requires all of us to do more to protect privacy – and that means an end to not only third-party cookies, but also any technology used for tracking individual people as they browse the web.”

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