Many Google subscribers will be able to join the lawsuit that alleges the company has violated US federal wiretap law.
Alphabet Inc’s Google, the world’s most popular web browser, is being sued for $5 billion in Northern California.
Google is accused of breaching the privacy of its millions of users and violating US federal and state privacy laws by tracking their internet use, even when the browsers are in ‘private’ mode.
“Federal privacy laws prohibit unauthorized interception, access, and use of the contents in electronic communications. California law similarly prohibits, among other things, eavesdropping, recording, and sharing of confidential communications without the consent of all parties to the communication,” the complaint reads.
The argument is based on whether Google Chrome’s ‘Incognito’ or other browsers’ private browsing modes provide protection from tracking and also whether Google essentially continues to monitor its users, despite offering ‘privacy’.
“None of these Plaintiffs consented to the tracking and interception of their confidential communications made while browsing in ‘private browsing mode,’” it says.
“Well aware of consumers’ legitimate and reasonable concerns over privacy, Google assured, and continues to assure, its consumers and users that they, and not Google, are “in control of what information [they] share with Google.” Google further represents that “across our services, you can adjust our privacy settings to control what we collect and how your information is used.” Nothing could be further from the truth,” the complaint asserts.
“Google tracks and collects consumer browsing history and other web activity data no matter what safeguards consumers undertake to protect their data privacy. Indeed, even when Google users launch a web browser with “private browsing mode” activated (as Google recommends to users wishing to browse the web privately), Google nevertheless tracks the users’ browsing data and other identifying information,” it adds.
When users start Chrome’s Incognito mode, for example, they are greeted with a warning screen that tells them that while “other people who use this device won’t see your activity” there is the possibility that “your activity might still be visible to websites you visit, your employee or school, and your internet service provider”.
The same screen also assures users that Google’s Chrome browser will not save cookies, site data, and information entered in forms.
The complaint was filed in the federal court in San Jose, California, by law firm Boies Schiller & Flexner, and the plaintiffs are Chasom Brown, Maria Nguyen and William Byatt. It claims that Google collects data through Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager, and other applications and website plug-ins, Reuters reported, including smartphone apps.
According to the document, the collection of such data leads to the web giant learning information that concerns people’s social circles, everyday activities, food preference, shopping habits, and possibly also the “intimate and potentially embarrassing things” they search for online.
Google “cannot continue to engage in the covert and unauthorized data collection from virtually every American with a computer or phone,” the complaint said.
A Google spokesman noted that “we strongly dispute these claims, and we will defend ourselves vigorously against them”.
Jose Castaneda added, “As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity.”
The proposed class action suit may include “millions” of Google users who have taken advantage of Google’s Incognito mode since June 1, 2016, and this may lead to a demand for damages per user of $5,000 or three times the actual damages - whichever is greater - for violations of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws, ARN reports.