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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Google settles $5 billion lawsuit over incognito mode privacy concerns

The lawsuit centered around Google's Chrome browser's "incognito" mode, which the plaintiffs argued gave users a false sense of privacy.

Google has agreed to settle a consumer privacy lawsuit seeking at least $5 billion in damages over allegations that it tracked the data of users who believed they were browsing the internet privately in “incognito” mode. The lawsuit, filed in 2020, centered around Google’s Chrome browser’s “incognito” mode, which the plaintiffs argued gave users a false sense of privacy. Despite the promise of anonymity, internal emails presented in the case revealed that Google was tracking users for web traffic measurement and ad targeting purposes.

Deceptive Incognito Mode

The heart of the lawsuit revolved around the claim that Google intentionally deceived users by providing them with an “incognito” option that didn’t truly protect their privacy. Users were led to believe that their online activities were shielded from tracking, but internal documents exposed a different reality. Google’s use of data for measuring web traffic and selling ads, even in incognito mode, became a focal point for the plaintiffs.

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Preliminary Settlement

The recent development involves a preliminary agreement between Google and the plaintiffs’ lawyers to settle the class-action lawsuit. The initial filing sought a minimum of $5,000 for each user tracked by Google Analytics or Ad Manager services while in incognito mode and not logged into their Google account. While the settlement amount is yet to be disclosed, it is expected to fall short of the staggering $5 billion initially sought by the plaintiffs.

Legal Proceedings

The settlement comes on the heels of Google’s unsuccessful attempt to have the case decided by a judge, with a jury trial scheduled to commence next year. The lawsuit alleged that Google’s practices infringed on users’ privacy by intentionally deceiving them with the incognito option. The refusal of Google’s request for a judge-led decision signaled a prolonged legal battle, prompting the tech giant to opt for a settlement.

Privacy Invasion Claims

The original complaint accused Google and its employees of having the “power to learn intimate details about individuals’ lives, interests, and internet usage.” The lawsuit portrayed Google as an entity holding vast amounts of detailed and expansive information, raising concerns about the invasion of user privacy. The comparison to George Orwell’s dystopian vision highlighted the severity of the alleged privacy violations.

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This settlement adds to a growing trend of big tech companies resolving privacy-related issues through settlements. Class-action lawsuits have become a primary avenue for challenging tech giants in the absence of a comprehensive U.S. law on personal data handling. Earlier this year, Google paid $23 million to settle a case involving third-party access to user search data. Similarly, in 2022, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, settled a case for $725 million related to user data handling.