Google illegally tracked millions of people in the U.S. using its Chrome browsers despite their enabling the software’s “Incognito mode” for private browsing, a new lawsuit charges.
The lawsuit, filed June 2, alleges Google engaged in “unlawful and intentional interception and collection of individuals’ confidential communications without their consent, even when those individuals expressly follow Google’s recommendations to prevent the tracking or collection of their personal information and communications.”
The plaintiffs behind the lawsuit are seeking class-action certification. The federal lawsuit, which names both Google and parent company Alphabet as defendants, seeks at least $5,000 of damages per user for Google’s alleged violations of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws. That means that if Google loses the case, it could be liable for several billion dollars in damages (the lawsuit claims Google violated the privacy of “hundreds of millions” of users).
According to the lawsuit, given Google’s promise to Chrome users about “private browsing mode,” the only “reasonable impression” that users are left with that the internet company “will honor their request to be left alone and in private without further tracking.”
“Google’s continuous tracking of users is no accident,” the complaint says. “Google’s enormous financial success results from its unparalleled tracking and collection of consumer personal information and selling and brokering of that information to optimize advertisement services.”
Google responded that it will “vigorously” fight the lawsuit.
In a statement, a Google spokesman said: “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.”
On its support website about Chrome’s Incognito mode, Google under the heading “What happens when you browse privately” says, “Chrome won’t save your browsing history, cookies and site data, or information entered in forms.” However, in the same section, it notes, “Your activity isn’t hidden from websites you visit, your employer or school, or your internet service provider.”
The lawsuit names three Google users as plaintiffs: L.A. residents Chasom Brown and Maria Nguyen, and William Byatt, who lives in Florida. The trio claim they were tracked by Google even after they used Chrome in incognito mode from June 1, 2016 to the present (which represents the timeframe for the proposed class period).
The lawsuit (available at this link) was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California. The lead attorneys for plaintiffs are with New York-based law firm Boies Schiller Flexner.