Google is currently facing a class-action lawsuit for secretly collecting users’ data while browsing in Incognito mode. Millions of Google users around the world believe that their online activities cannot be tracked when using the Incognito privacy mode, but a recent revelation has shown that this is not really the case, hence the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is Brown v. Google LLC, 20-3664, US District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).
Google had tried to get the case thrown out for lack of merit, but US District Judge Lucy Koh overruled the objection, stating that actually has a case to answer in the lawsuit. Google had argued that users are aware that their data are being collected even in privacy mode and that users consented to this via their terms of service. The tech company contends that users are aware that Incognito privacy mode does not indicate invisibility on the web and that websites that users visit can still track online activities.
“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 argued in defense.
Judge Koh responded that Google deceives users into thinking that anything they do online while using Incognito privacy mode cannot be tracked and failed to inform users that their data is being collected in Incognito mode. She said the complainants can therefore proceed with their lawsuit. Three complainants in June launched a complaint that the tech giant engages in “pervasive data tracking business” despite the fact that users switch to Incognito to prevent being tracked.
“Google knows who your friends are, what your hobbies are, what you like to eat, what movies you watch, where and when you like to shop, what your favorite vacation destinations are, what your favorite color is, and even the most intimate and potentially embarrassing things you browse on the internet – regardless of whether you follow Google’s advice to keep your activities ‘private,’” the petitioners complained in the lawsuit.
Internet experts have however disclosed that Incognito privacy mode only prevents online activities from showing up in users’ local search history and prevents cookies from logging these activities; however, it does not prevent websites that users visit from obtaining identifying data about the visitors. Furthermore, experts claim that the generality of people does not read Google’s or other websites’ terms of service in their entity, and so miss out on important information buried deep within the documents.