Sunday, December 31, 2023

Google settles US$5 billion lawsuit regarding incognito mode

Google has consented to resolve a consumer privacy case that sought damages of at least US$5 billion (RM23 billion) due to claims that the company followed customers' data when they believed they were using the internet in private.

The "incognito" option on Google's Chrome browser, according to the plaintiffs, gave users the impression that the Silicon Valley tech company was not tracking them while they were browsing the internet. This was the subject of the complaint.

However, internal Google emails revealed in the complaint showed that the search engine and advertising giant was tracking users who were using incognito mode in order to measure online traffic and sell adverts.

The judge verified in a court document that Google's attorneys had negotiated an initial settlement to end the class action case, which was first brought in 2020 and stated that "millions of individuals" had probably been impacted.

The plaintiffs' attorneys were requesting at least US$5,000 for each customer they claimed had been followed by the company's Ad Manager or Google Analytics services, even while they weren't connected into their Google accounts or using private browsing mode.

This would have cost at least $5 billion, though it's unlikely that the settlement will come close to that amount. Additionally, no money was provided for the parties' initial settlement.

Google settles US$5 billion lawsuit regarding incognito mode

An AFP request for comment was not answered by Google or the consumers' attorneys.

Only a few weeks had passed since Google's plea for a judge to decide the issue had been denied. Next year was to see the start of a jury trial.

The lawsuit, filed in a Californian court, stated that by "intentionally" misleading consumers with the incognito option, Google's activities violated their privacy.

According to the initial complaint, Google and its staff members were granted the “ability to discover personal information about people's lives, passions, and online activities.”

It continued, "Google has made itself an unaccountable treasure trove of information so vast and detailed that George Orwell could never have imagined it."

By February 24, 2024, a formal settlement is anticipated for court approval.

Since the US does not have a comprehensive legislation governing the protection of personal data, class action lawsuits have emerged as the primary means of challenging large internet companies on data privacy issues.

Google settled a protracted legal dispute over providing third parties with access to customer search data in August by paying US$23 million.

The parent company of Facebook, Meta, reached a settlement in 2022 and agreed to pay US$725 million in relation to the processing of user data.

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Google settles US$5 billion lawsuit regarding incognito mode