A class action federal lawsuit was filed against Google in San Jose, California on Tuesday alleging the tech giant of illegally tracking and collecting users’ data even while in Incognito mode or if the user has opted out of data tracking, violating millions of users’ privacy. The three plaintiffs represented by Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, are accusing Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. of covertly collecting “consumer browsing history and other web activity data no matter what safeguards consumers undertake to protect their data privacy,” according to the complaint. The litigation is asking for $5 billion suing Alphabet Inc. and more specifically Google for invasion of privacy and breaking federal wiretapping laws, according to Bloomberg.
According to the case filed, even if the user has “incognito mode” or is using a “private” browser Google gathers all of that data through Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager and other applications and website plug-ins, including smartphone apps and other tools that the visited websites already have in place. These tools have helped Google collect a trove of data unparalleled in size and also containing super sensitive and private information such as browsing history, IP addresses, and more. Imagine what cybercriminals could do if anybody malicious gained access to this abundance of information?
What did Google have to say in response? “As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity,” Google spokesman Jose Castaneda said. Castaneda is a familiar name if you’ve been following Google’s privacy and data court filings. Just last month he stated a similar statement in response to the Arizona Attorney General’s lawsuit for illegally tracking and collecting private user data. “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,” Castaneda said in an email.
The problem with that statement is that the average consumer assumes that browsing on “Incognito mode” means that whatever they are browsing for is not collected or more importantly identifiable to them. Watchdogs and privacy experts are worried that companies like Google with these massive amounts of data can create identities for people using not only their consented public data, but also with their extremely private information. Cnet reported, the proposed class likely includes “millions” of Google users who since June 1, 2016 browsed the internet in “private” mode. It seeks at least $5,000 of damages per user for violations of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws.