Google’s legal woes continue as the tech giant faces a significant lawsuit over the way it tracks internet activity, even when users are browsing in ‘Incognito mode.’

The Lawsuit

A California judge, Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, denied Google’s request for summary judgment in a lawsuit filed by users alleging the company illegally invaded the privacy of millions by tracking their internet browsing activity. The claim is based on the fact that Google’s cookies, analytics, and tools continued to track user activity even after activating Incognito mode in Chrome or similar private browsing features in other browsers.

The plaintiffs are seeking “at least” $5 billion in damages, and the ruling brings the case closer to a settlement or trial.

Judge’s Ruling

Judge Gonzalez Rogers referenced several statements in Google’s Chrome privacy notice, Privacy Policy, Incognito Splash Screen, and Search & Browse Privately Help page. Her stance was that a “triable issue exists as to whether these writings created an enforceable promise that Google would not collect users’ data while they browsed privately.”

Another point against Google’s argument was the evidence provided by the plaintiffs that Google “stores users’ regular and private browsing data in the same logs; it uses those mixed logs to send users personalized ads; and, even if the individual data points gathered are anonymous by themselves, when aggregated, Google can use them to ‘uniquely identify a user with a high probability of success.’”

The judge also noted that money damages alone are not an adequate remedy, and “injunctive relief is necessary to address Google’s ongoing collection of users’ private browsing data.”

Google’s Response

Google’s spokesperson José Castañeda responded by stating, “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.”

A String of Legal Issues for Google

This lawsuit is just one part of a complex legal landscape that Google is currently navigating:

  • Antitrust Lawsuits: The company is facing lawsuits both in the United States and Europe, accused of monopolizing markets and stifling competition in search and online advertising.
  • Data Privacy Lawsuits: In addition to this recent case, Google is also facing other data privacy lawsuits, including a class-action lawsuit alleging violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
  • Copyright Infringement Lawsuits: Media companies such as Viacom, Oracle, and Getty Images have filed lawsuits against Google for hosting copyrighted content on its platforms.
  • Anti-competitive Conduct Lawsuits: Businesses like Yelp and Match Group have alleged that Google engaged in anti-competitive practices to stifle competition.

The denial of Google’s request for summary judgment in the Incognito mode case highlights the intricate and controversial relationship between technology companies and user privacy. This case adds to the growing list of legal challenges Google faces, reflecting broader concerns about data privacy, competition, and corporate responsibility in the digital age. The outcome of this lawsuit and others like it may help shape the legal frameworks and societal expectations for how technology companies handle personal data in the future.