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Google Reaches Preliminary Agreement to Settle $5 Billion "Incognito" Privacy Lawsuit

Published December 30, 2023
7 months ago

In a significant turn of events, Google has consented to a preliminary settlement in a major privacy lawsuit centered around its 'incognito' browsing mode—a feature of the Chrome browser. The lawsuit, which sought a staggering minimum of $5 billion in damages, accused Google of surreptitiously tracking users' browsing data despite their utilizing the privacy-focused mode. This groundbreaking legal move represents a notable development in the consumer privacy landscape.

The lawsuit unveiled unsettling details about internet privacy, made evident through internal Google emails. These emails disclosed that even in incognito mode, the tech juggernaut continued to monitor users' internet activities to gather web traffic data and facilitate targeted advertisements. This revelation contradicted the widely held belief that incognito mode allowed for private, untracked internet browsing.

Filed in a California court in 2020, the class action alleged that Google's deceptive practices not only breached user privacy but also involved intentionally misleading users about the security of their online activities. The complaint went as far as comparing Google's extensive information collection to a dystopian level of surveillance unforeseen even by the likes of George Orwell.

Google's settlement offer, details of which remain undisclosed, came on the heels of a denied request to have the matter ruled upon by a judge alone, with a jury trial initially on the calendar for next year. Plaintiffs in the case were pursuing compensation of no less than $5,000 for each individual affected by Google's alleged data tracking via services like Google Analytics or Ad Manager, even when in private browsing mode outside of their Google accounts.

The implications of this lawsuit extend far beyond the confines of the settlement. Class action suits have increasingly become the weapon of choice against tech behemoths where data privacy is concerned, partially due to the absence of a comprehensive national personal data handling law in the United States.

Google's entanglement with privacy-related legal challenges is not new. Just recently, in August, the company settled a case concerning unauthorized third-party access to users' search data for $23 million. Meanwhile, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, also consented to a $725 million settlement in a comparable lawsuit over user data management.

As the digital landscape continues to evolve at a lightning-fast pace, this lawsuit underscores the heightened scrutiny on tech companies regarding consumer data protection. A formal agreement is anticipated to be presented for judicial endorsement by February 24, 2024, setting a precedent for how user privacy is treated and defended in the realm of internet browsing.

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