Google to Settle Lawsuit Over Claims It Tracks People in 'Incognito' Mode

Plaintiffs argued Google continued to track users who thought they were browsing privately
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 29, 2021 7:45 AM CST
Updated Dec 30, 2023 6:00 AM CST
Judge: Plaintiffs in Suit Can Put Google CEO in Hot Seat
A cursor moves over Google's search engine page, in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 28, 2018.   (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File)
UPDATE Dec 30, 2023 6:00 AM CST

Google will settle the class-action lawsuit, filed in 2020, accusing the tech giant of tracking users even when they were using "incognito" mode on their Chrome web browsers, the AP reports. Plaintiffs argued Google had amassed an "unaccountable trove of information" on users who were misled into believing they were browsing privately, when really Google's advertising technologies and other technologies kept right on cataloguing where they were going and what they were doing online. The suit originally sought $5 billion; terms of the settlement have not been disclosed and must still be approved by a judge.

Dec 29, 2021 7:45 AM CST

If you use Google Chrome and don't want the web browser to remember where you've been, you can head into "Incognito" mode, which ostensibly keeps your activity private. A lawsuit now brings under the microscope the meaning of what "private" actually means, and a California federal judge has just ruled that the CEO of Google and parent company Alphabet can be questioned in the case. Reuters reports that US Magistrate Judge Susan van Keulen issued her ruling on Monday, allowing plaintiffs in the complaint filed in June of last year to put Sundar Pichai in the hot seat for up to two hours.

The suit notes that even though users are assured their privacy is protected while using Chrome in Incognito mode, they're still being tracked by Google. Google, for its part, says that going the Incognito route guarantees only that data won't be saved on the user's device. According to court documents from September, Pichai had been warned in 2019 that these murky waters involving user expectations on privacy could cause issues, but that Google carried on as is, as Pichai didn't want the whole matter "under the spotlight."

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Van Keulen said in her Monday ruling out of San Jose that "a few documents establish that specific relevant information was communicated to, and possibly from, Pichai," lending support to her decision to allow the plaintiffs to question him. A Google spokesperson says the company "will continue to vigorously defend" itself, and that the plaintiff's demands of Pichai are "unwarranted and overreaching." (More Sundar Pichai stories.)

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