Google is facing a new wave of legal issues. The latest is a $5-billion lawsuit in the US over claims that the search engine giant collected user information when they surfed the Internet in Google Chrome’s ‘private’ Incognito Mode.
The class-action lawsuit, filed in US District Court for the Northern District of California, alleged that Google tracked and collected consumer browsing history even if users took steps to maintain their privacy, reports The New York Times.
Seeking at least $5 billion, the lawsuit is accusing the Alphabet Inc unit of collecting information about what people view online and where they browse, despite their using what Google calls Incognito Mode.
According to the complaint, Google gathers 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 even while in the Private Browsing mode.
This helps Google learn about users’ friends, hobbies, favourite foods, shopping habits, and even the “most intimate and potentially embarrassing things” they search for online, the complaint claims.
The lawsuit is aiming to use the Federal Wiretap Act that provides users with the right to sue if their private communications are intercepted, writes News18.
A Google spokesperson denied the claim – “we strongly dispute these claims, and we will defend ourselves vigorously against them”.
“Incognito mode in Chrome gives you the choice to browse the internet without your activity being saved to your browser or device. 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,” the company spokesperson adds.
Many users believe that once they are logged into the Internet via Incognito Mode, their search history isn’t being tracked. Incognito mode within Google’s Chrome browser gives users the choice to search the internet without their activity being saved to the browser or device. However, Google does include a disclaimer when accessing Incognito Mode that user information is still available to ISPs and government agencies in the case of any illegal activity.
“As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity,” the spokesperson says. However, Google denies the allegations that it collects user information while in Incognito Mode.
The complaint includes the “millions” of Google users who since 1 June 2016 browsed the Internet on Google’s Incognito Mode. The plaintiffs are claiming $5,000 of damages per user for violations of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws, thus the enormous damages.