Google to pay $5 billion to settle lawsuit for allegedly tracking users in ‘Incognito’ mode

Google Agrees to Settle $5 Billion Lawsuit Over Private Browsing Data

Google has agreed to settle a $5 billion lawsuit in which the tech giant has been accused of collecting data of internet users while they were browsing in “private” mode on Google’s Chrome or other browsers.

The class-action lawsuit, filed in 2020 by five plaintiffs, covers millions of Google users and accuses the company of tracking user activity even after setting Google’s Chrome browser to “Incognito” mode. The complaint alleged that this tracking was also done when using the “private” browsing mode in other browsers. It also alleged that when a user visited a website containing Google’s Analytics or other codes via any browser, the tech company collected private information like IP address and location data, despite the user being on “private” browsing.

The complaint insisted that Google violated California’s privacy laws and federal regulations and demanded a minimum of $5,000 in damages per affected user, with the total amount of the lawsuit amounting to at least $5 billion.

On Tuesday, Google and the lawsuit plaintiffs submitted a notice in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, agreeing to a deal that would “resolve the claims in this litigation” provided that the court approves. They asked the court to stay the litigation “in its entirety” and vacate the trial date so they could focus on finalizing the settlement. The trial date on the case, previously scheduled for Feb. 5, 2024, has been put on hold.

The settlement terms were not revealed, but the two sides are expected to present a formal settlement agreement for court approval by Feb. 24.

In August, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers rejected Google’s bid for summary judgment, ruling that the company had been collecting, aggregating, and selling plaintiffs’ private browsing data without their consent, despite representing that it would not do so.

Plaintiffs argued that Google uses this data to build user profiles and display better-targeted advertisements, which are core to Google’s business. The plaintiffs accused Google of violating Section 632 of the California Invasion of Privacy Act (CIPA), which provides liability against those who eavesdrop on or record confidential communication by means of any electronic device without the consent of all parties.

Google argued that the Incognito splash screen makes it clear that privacy has its limits, claiming that since plaintiffs agreed that they could be “overheard” by someone else, they should have no expectation of privacy, even against Google. However, the judge pointed out that “plaintiffs had an expectation of privacy against Google even if they knew others could be listening in.”

This potential $5 billion deal is the latest settlement Google has agreed to. Last week, Google announced it would pay $700 million to settle a lawsuit filed by multiple U.S. states that accused the company of running a monopoly on its Play Store.

The settlement terms were not revealed, but the two sides are expected to present a formal settlement agreement for the approval of the court by Feb. 24, according to Reuters.

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