A trio of Google users have filed a lawsuit claiming billions of dollars in damages, allegedly tricked into abandoning their web usage data by promising “private browsing” in “incognito mode.”
“With its extensive data tracking business, Google knows who your friends are, what your hobbies are, what you like to eat, what films you watch, where and when you shop, what your favorite vacation destinations are, what color you prefer and even the most intimate and possibly the most embarrassing things you surf the web regardless of whether you follow Google’s advice to keep your activities “private,” the lawsuit filed at the U.S. District Court in San Jose. “Google has become an inexplicable treasure of information that is so detailed and extensive that George Orwell could never have dreamed of it.”
The lawsuit focuses on the language the digital advertising giant Mountain View uses to explain incognito mode. The plaintiffs emphasize a statement that the mode allows users to “surf the Internet privately”, and Google refers to pointers for users who explain that “private” surfing does not work. This means that no data is collected.
Google said it strongly disputed the claims in the lawsuit and would vigorously defend itself.
“Incognito mode in Chrome gives you the ability to browse the web without saving your activity on your browser or device,” the company said in a statement emailed Wednesday. “As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites may be able to collect information about your browsing activity during your session.”
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Chasom Brown and Maria Nguyen from Los Angeles and William Byatt from Florida, are demanding class action status and damages of at least $ 5,000 each for “millions” of people who have been allegedly affected by the data collection since June 2016 . These claims, if granted by the court, would force Google to pay at least $ 5 billion in damages.
“To prevent information from being passed on to Google, Google recommends that its consumers only have to start a browser such as Google Chrome, Safari, Microsoft Edge or Firefox in” private browser mode “,” said the lawsuit filed on Tuesday.
Regardless of whether a user selected private browsing, “Google continues to track, collect, and identify its browsing data in real time, which violates federal and state law on wiretapping and consumer rights to privacy.” “Most consumers are not aware of Google and are constantly tracking what they are requesting and reading, click for click and page for page in real time.
“The various tracking tools from Google, including Google Analytics and Google Ad Manager, are used to automatically track users when they visit websites – regardless of which settings a user chooses.”
The incognito mode landing page in Chrome says, “You can now browse privately and other people using this device won’t see your activity. However, downloads and bookmarks will be saved.” Browsing history, which does not store cookies, site data, and user information entered in forms, however, warns that user activity may still be visible to websites visited, employers, schools, and Internet service providers. A link on the page provides support Page on which it is clarified that the reference to employers and schools concerns the use of work or school computers.
Incognito mode does not prevent you from telling a website who you are, it says on the support page. “When you log into a website in incognito mode, that website knows that you are the one who is surfing and can follow your activities from that moment on.”
The lawsuit claims that Google intercepts browser data when private modes are used in other browsers, including Safari. Google’s statement, referring to Chrome’s “incognito mode,” and a spokesperson who was asked to say that other browsers intercept data said, “Chrome works the same way as other browsers.”