Google is facing yet another multi-billion lawsuit over its data collection practices in the US. The web giant has been sued for allegedly tracking users' browsing activity even when they browse in "private mode" or Incognito Mode in Chrome browser. And, therefore, illegally invading their privacy.
The class-action lawsuit was filed in US District Court for the Northern District of California on Tuesday, June 2, by Mark C. Mao, a partner at the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner. The firm alleged that Google's practices "intentionally deceive consumers" into believing that their browsing activity will not be tracked if they surf the web in private.
"Google tracks and collects consumer browsing history and other web activity data no matter what safeguards consumers undertake to protect their data privacy," said the complaint. It seeks at least $5 billion of damages from the company for violations of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws.
The laws require the consent of all parties to access the contents of private communication. Since Google is gathering data without consent, it is essentially intercepting the contents of private communication between users and websites. And as per the Federal Wiretap Act, users have the right to sue if their private communications are intercepted.
Google faces lawsuit over tracking users in Incognito Mode
If you open a tab in Incognito Mode in Chrome, it explicitly mentions that your browsing activity might still be visible to websites you visit, or to your internet service provider. However, the lawsuit says Google fails to mention that other tracking tools used by the company may also track users.
The web giant allegedly gathers data through Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager, and other applications and website plug-ins.
The types of data collected include IP addresses, browser, and device information, as well as websites visited. So even when a user opts for private browsing, the company somehow keeps a tab on their activity.
This is irrespective of whether the user clicks on a Google-supported ad. This gives the company information about users' hobbies, favorite foods, shopping habits, and more. It even knows the "most intimate and potentially embarrassing things" users search for online.
The Mountain View company may eventually augment user profiles by tracking their identities across different browsing modes. It can collect data from private and general browsing modes and combine them.
Google "cannot continue to engage in the covert and unauthorized data collection from virtually every American with a computer or phone," the complaint added. It seeks at least $5,000 of damages per user who, since June 2016, have browsed the internet in "private" mode. Since the proposed class likely includes "millions" of Google users, the sum adds up to at least $5 billion.
Google, meanwhile, says it will defend itself vigorously against the claims. "We strongly dispute these claims, and we will defend ourselves vigorously against them.
As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity during your session," said Jose Castaneda, a Google spokesman.