A judge in California has ruled that Google must face a class action lawsuit alleging that it secretly tracks the online activity of Chrome users even when they’re using the browser in its privacy-oriented Incognito mode (via Bloomberg).
The lawsuit was filed in June by three plaintiffs alleging that Google hoovers up user data through Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager and other applications and website plug-ins, including smartphone apps, regardless of whether users click on Google-supported ads.
The plaintiffs claim that Google is therefore deceiving customers into believing that they have control over the information they share with the company when they use Chrome’s private browsing mode, and in doing so, violates federal wiretap laws.
According to the plaintiffs, the lawsuit likely covers “millions” of Google users who since June 1, 2016 browsed the internet using Incognito mode. The proposed class action therefore seeks $5,000 in damages per user for violations of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws, amounting to at least $5 billion.
“Google also makes clear that ‘Incognito’ does not mean ‘invisible,’ and that the user’s activity during that session may be visible to websites they visit, and any third-party analytics or ads services the visited websites use,” Google said in a court filing.
However, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh ruled that the company “did not notify users that Google engages in the alleged data collection while the user is in private browsing mode.”
Google has said it will defend itself “vigorously” against the claims.