Search engine Google is being sued for $5 billion in a class action suit filed in a California court for violation of its users’ privacy, even when they browse in the incognito mode. A similar case was filed last week too. So what wrong has Google committed?
The suit alleges that “Google tracks and collects consumer browsing history and other web activity data no matter what safeguards consumers undertake to protect their data privacy”, such as in the incognito mode and thereby gains “a complete, cradle-to-grave profile” of the users without their consent. Among other things, it accuses Google of “collecting, at minimum, the consumer’s IP address, browser and device information and the webpage content that the consumer is actually looking at”.
What’s incognito mode: Google’s incognito mode offers people the chance to keep their browsing history private, especially on shared devices, claiming that none of a user’s “browsing history, cookies and site data, or information entered in forms are saved” on the device. It also adds that even “Chrome doesn’t tell websites, including Google, when you’re browsing privately in Incognito mode”.
However…Google also cautions users that their browsing history even in incognito mode is still visible to their school, employer or their internet service provider. It also says that the incognito mode doesn’t “prevent the websites you visit from serving ads based on your activity during an incognito session”.
The billions: The petitioners however contend that not only is Google’s snooping in on their browsing history in incognito mode, but that the company was benefitting monetarily from this privacy breach. According to the petitioners, Google has collected and sold off its users’ personal information to third party advertisers — with data on web browsing histories fetching $52 per year as per a study cited in the suit, with the highest value reserved for details like Social Security Number, which is worth $240, while credit card details are worth $150.
The penalty: The petitioners say that since Google has violated the privacy of people numbering in multiples of million, each should receive more than $5,000 at the very least — which would make the minimum payout due $5 billion, if Google loses. However, considering that there are 1.5 billion active account users….you can do the math!
The lawsuit is aiming to utilize the Federal Wiretap Act that provides users with the right to sue if their private communications are intercepted.
A Google spokesperson denied the claim.
“We strongly dispute these claims, and we will defend ourselves vigorously against them,” a Google spokesperson was quoted a saying.
“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 added.
Many users think that once they are logged into 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.
But the websites visited can use tools such as Google Analytics to track the usage.
A joint study from Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pennsylvania last year investigated 22,484 sex websites using a tool called “webXray” revealed that 93 per cent of pages track and leak users’ data to third-party organisations.
“Tracking on these sites is highly concentrated by a handful of major companies,” said the researchers who identified 230 different companies and services tracking users in their sample.
Of non-pornography-specific services, Google tracks 74 per cent of sites, Oracle 24 per cent and Facebook 10 per cent, said the study.