Google’s $5 billion lawsuit over ‘Incognito Mode’ tracking is moving closer to trial.

Google's $5 billion lawsuit over 'Incognito Mode' tracking is moving closer to trial.

Google Denied Summary Judgement in Lawsuit Alleging Tracking in Incognito Mode

A recent development in a class action lawsuit against Google reveals that a California judge has denied the tech giant’s request for summary judgement. The lawsuit, filed in June 2020, alleges that Google secretly tracked the online activity of Chrome users even when they were using the browser in its privacy-oriented Incognito mode. The judge, Yvonne Gonzalez-Rogers, referred to Google’s own representation of its private browsing mode as the basis for denying the request.

The plaintiffs claim that Google collects user data in Incognito mode through various applications and website plug-ins, including Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager, and even smartphone apps. This data collection occurs regardless of whether users click on Google-supported ads. As a result, the lawsuit argues that Google is deceiving customers into believing they have control over the information shared with the company when using Chrome’s private browsing mode. In doing so, they allege that Google violates federal wiretap laws.

Judge Yvonne Gonzalez-Rogers highlighted the contradiction between Google’s representation of Incognito mode and its actual data collection practices. Google had described Incognito mode in its Chrome privacy notice, Privacy Policy, Incognito Splash Screen, and Search & Browse Privately Help page as a way to limit stored information and control shared information. By representing Incognito mode as a means to “go Incognito” and “browse privately,” Google implied that users could reasonably expect privacy. The judge’s decision reflects this expectation and concludes that Google has not shown, as a matter of law, that all parties consented to the collection of their communications.

The scope of the lawsuit potentially covers millions of Google users who have utilized Incognito mode since June 1, 2016. The proposed class action seeks $5,000 in damages per user for violations of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws, totaling at least $5 billion.

Google has stated that it will defend itself vigorously against these claims. Previously, the company attempted to have the case dismissed by arguing that users consented to its privacy policy, which explicitly discloses data protection practices. However, this argument was unsuccessful.

The rejection of Google’s request for summary judgement brings the case one step closer to settlement or trial. The lawsuit exposes a significant conflict between Google’s representation of Incognito mode and the extent to which it actually protects user privacy. The outcome of this case could have significant implications for the privacy expectations of Chrome users and the responsibility of technology companies to accurately represent their privacy features.

Incognito Mode