Google Agrees to Settle $5 Billion Lawsuit Over ‘Incognito’ Mode Privacy Violations

Fri Dec 29 2023
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SAN FRANCISCO: Google has reached an agreement to settle a consumer privacy lawsuit demanding a minimum of $5 billion in damages for alleged tracking of users who believed they were browsing the internet privately.

The lawsuit focused on Google’s Chrome browser’s “incognito” mode, which plaintiffs argued provided users with a false sense of privacy. Internal Google emails presented during the lawsuit revealed that users in incognito mode were being tracked for web traffic measurement and ad sales.

In a court filing, the judge confirmed that Google’s lawyers have reached a preliminary settlement in the class-action lawsuit filed in 2020, asserting that “millions of people” were likely affected. Plaintiffs sought at least $5,000 for each user tracked by Google Analytics or Ad Manager services in private browsing mode without being logged into their Google account, potentially totaling at least $5 billion. The settlement amount was not disclosed.

Google and consumer lawyers did not respond to an AFP request for comment. The settlement follows Google’s unsuccessful attempt to have the case decided by a judge, with a jury trial scheduled for the coming year.

The lawsuit, filed in a California court, claimed that Google’s practices violated user privacy by “intentionally” misleading them through the incognito option. The original complaint contended that Google had the “power to learn intimate details about individuals’ lives, interests, and internet usage,” creating an extensive and detailed information repository.

A formal settlement is expected to undergo court approval by February 24, 2024. Class action lawsuits have become a primary avenue for challenging major tech companies on data privacy matters in the United States, where comprehensive legislation on personal data handling is lacking.

In a related development, Google paid $23 million in August to settle a longstanding case concerning third-party access to user search data. Additionally, in 2022, Meta, the parent company of Facebook, settled a similar case, agreeing to pay $725 million for issues related to user data handling.

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