Google has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed in June 2020 that alleged that the company misled users by tracking their surfing activity who thought that their internet use remained private when using the “incognito” or “private” mode on web browsers.
The class-action lawsuit sought at least $5 billion in damages. The settlement terms were not disclosed.
The plaintiffs had alleged that Google violated federal wiretap laws and tracked users’ activity using Google Analytics to collect information when in private mode.
They said this allowed the company to collect an “unaccountable trove of information” about users who assumed they had taken adequate steps to protect their privacy online.
Google subsequently attempted to get the lawsuit dismissed, pointing out the message it displayed when users turned on Chrome’s incognito mode, which informs users that their activity might still be visible to websites you visit, employer or school, or their internet service provider.
It’s worth noting here at this point that enabling incognito or private mode in a web browser only gives users the choice to search the internet without their activity being locally saved to the browser.
That said, websites using advertising technologies and analytics APIs can still continue to track users within that incognito session and can further correlate that activity by, for example, matching users’ IP address.
“Google’s motion hinges on the idea that plaintiffs consented to Google collecting their data while they were browsing in private mode,” U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled.
“Because Google never explicitly told users that it does so, the Court cannot find as a matter of law that users explicitly consented to the at-issue data collection.”