A California judge has denied Google’s request for summary judgment in a lawsuit filed by users alleging that the company illegally invaded their privacy. The plaintiffs claim that Google’s cookies, analytics, and tools in apps continued to track their internet browsing activity even after they activated the Incognito mode in Chrome or other similar features, expecting a certain level of privacy. However, it is worth noting that private browsing modes may not provide complete privacy, as we previously reported in 2018.
In response to the ruling, Google spokesperson José Castañeda disputed the claims and stated that Incognito mode in Chrome gives users the choice to browse the internet without their activity being saved to their browser or device. However, Google also clarifies that websites may still collect information about browsing activity during an Incognito session.
Another issue mentioned by the judge that goes against Google’s arguments is the plaintiffs’ evidence showing that Google stores both regular and private browsing data in the same logs. Furthermore, Google uses these mixed logs to send users personalized ads. While the individual data points gathered may be anonymous, when aggregated, Google can use them to uniquely identify a user with a high probability of success.
The judge also addressed Google’s argument that the plaintiffs did not suffer economic injury. She pointed out that the plaintiffs have shown evidence of a market for their browsing data, and Google’s alleged collection of their data without consent hindered their ability to participate in that market. The judge concluded that money damages alone are not an adequate remedy and that injunctive relief is necessary to address Google’s ongoing collection of users’ private browsing data.
The lawsuit, filed in 2020, sought “at least” $5 billion in damages. The ruling was not entirely surprising, as the judge had indicated her intention to deny Google’s request for summary judgment. However, this ruling is significant as it brings the case closer to a potential settlement or trial.
Overall, this legal battle raises important questions about the extent of privacy protections provided by browsers’ private browsing modes and the practices of companies like Google in collecting and using user data. The outcome of this lawsuit could have implications for the future of online privacy and may lead to changes in the way companies handle user data in private browsing modes.