Google To Face a $5 Billion Lawsuit Over Tracking Users in Incognito Mode

Following the complaints received from three Google users about the tech giant monitoring user data in incognito mode, Google and its parent company Alphabet is at the centre of a $5 billion class-action lawsuit in the United States.

According to the complaint, when Chrome's Incognito mode is activated, Google is in violation of wiretapping and privacy laws by intercepting, monitoring, and collecting information.


The Complaints Noted in The Lawsuit


Google conducts a pervasive data tracking business, as per the lawsuit, which was filed in June. Even after activating the incognito private web browsing mode on Google Chrome, Google collects browsing history and other web activity details, as further noted by the lawsuit.


As the complaint notes, whether or not you follow Google's advice to keep your habits "private," Google knows who your friends are, what you want to eat, what movies you want to watch, when and where you want to shop, what your favourite holiday destinations are, what your favourite colour is, and even the most personal and potentially humiliating stuff you search on the internet. 


According to Cnet, the complaint claims that Google tracks users using a variety of systems, including Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager, website plug-ins, and other software, including smartphone apps.


Google’s Attempt to Brush Things Under the Rug


Since the case was filed in June, Google has been attempting to get it dismissed. It was later ruled by a federal judge that the lawsuit must go forward. US District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California in her ruling wrote that Google does not properly warn users that their data can be collected in Incognito mode.


The plaintiffs claimed that they were under the impression that Incognito mode provided complete protection from data trackers.


Google, on the other hand, has refuted the allegations via a statement released by Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda, claiming that it alerts users ahead of time about the monitoring activity that could occur while using incognito mode and that being incognito does not imply being invisible.

In its court ruling, the tech giant also claimed that the user's actions during that session could be visible to the sites they use, as well as any third-party monitoring or advertisement services those websites use.


According to Google, the claimants have agreed to Chrome's privacy policy, which discloses the company's data processing activities.


Google’s New Changes


Google announced earlier in March 2021 that it would phase out third-party cookies and would not replace them with any other tracking technology. The cookies would not be able to collect the information if you use the Chrome browser. However, the move applies only to the desktop edition of Chrome; Google will continue to monitor users on the Chrome mobile browser.


Fact-Checking the Claims Against Google


Consumers sued Google in a class-action case for gathering information while using Chrome browser's Incognito mode. The judge hearing the case ruled that the litigation should continue because Google fails to warn users that their data can still be gathered while they are browsing in Incognito mode.


Google refutes the allegations, arguing that when users open an Incognito window, they are told that data may be collected by websites. Users who enable Incognito mode in Chrome are presented with the message "Now you can browse privately." 

It goes on to say that the user's browsing activity is not visible to other users who use the same device. The message explicitly notes toward the end that their activity could be visible to the websites they visit. 

When using Incognito mode at school or at work, users should be mindful that their behaviour can be visible to others. A user's internet service provider might also be able to see their online activity.


What Does Incognito Mode Actually Do?


The Incognito mode in Google Chrome is largely misunderstood. Some people assume that using Incognito mode protects a user from customized search results. DuckDuckGo performed research in 2018 that focused on this subject. 

Information is not saved locally when using Incognito mode. It conceals a user's browsing activity from other users who share the same device. If you share a computer with roommates, for example, you can use Incognito mode to keep your online activities private. Incognito mode is only intended for this reason.


The plaintiffs would have to persuade a jury that their arguments are true, making this a fascinating case to follow. At the very least, this case can raise awareness about what Incognito mode does and does not do.


Written by - Christeena George

Edited by- Adrija Saha

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