Google Sued for Tracking Users in Incognito Mode

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Earlier this week, Alphabet Inc’s Google was sued, accusing the company of invading the privacy of it’s users. Google is tracking their internet use, even when their browsers are in incognito mode. The complaint was filed in San Jose, California, on Tuesday. The lawsuit seeks at least $5 billion in damages.

The Lawsuit

The suit was filed by law firm Boies Schiller & Flexner, which is currently representing three plaintiffs. But the complaint said that the issue most likely includes millions of Google users who have browsed the internet in “private” mode. And it seeks at least $5,000 of damages per user for violations of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws.

The lawsuit argues that Google gives their users the idea that their data isn’t collected in incognito mode, while the opposite is true. It says that “Google tracks and collects consumer browsing history and other web activity data no matter what safeguards consumers undertake to protect their data privacy”. Other Google tools such as Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager, and other applications and website plug-ins gather data. This happens even when users opt out of this by using the incognito mode.

Google’s Response

Jose Castaneda, a spokesperson for Google, has said that the company will defend itself against the claims. He states that Google has been transparent towards their users about collecting data from them while in incognito mode. Incognito mode gives you the option to browse the internet without your activity being saved to your browser or device. Castaneda explained that each time you open an incognito tab, the page states that “websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity”.

When you open an incognito window in Google Chrome, you need to be aware that your browser will not save your search history, but analytics data is still sent to the websites you visit. The tools that were mentioned before help Google learn about their users. They build a profile on you with the information they have collected, so that advertisers can target the right people with their ads.

Previous Violations

This is not the first time that questions were raised about Google’s data collection. Last month, the company was sued in Arizona, accusing Google of collecting location data without users’ permission. And in March, Google was accused of violating users’ privacy and being in possible breach of GDPR.

Online security researchers have been worried for a while. They think that companies like Google collect data across different browsing modes. And it is understandable why they would do this. There is a lot more to learn about people when you look at their private browsing habits as well. But, of course, that does not make it acceptable. Privacy is a right that needs to be protected.

Cybersecurity analyst
David is a cyber security analyst and one of the founders of Interested in the "digital identity" phenomenon, with special attention to the right to privacy and protection of personal data.