Google Settles Class-Action Lawsuit Over Alleged Privacy Breaches in ‘Incognito Mode’

Google has reportedly reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit that accused the tech giant of surreptitiously collecting "potentially embarrassing" data from users utilizing the company's "Incognito mode" and other private browsing features. The lawsuit, initiated by three Californians and two others in 2020, alleged that Google captured data despite claiming not to do so.

The plaintiffs, representing themselves and numerous internet users, sought the return of billions of dollars in profits the company purportedly made from the collected browsing data. Additionally, they sought unspecified damages exceeding $5,000 for each plaintiff and affected user. However, a judge denied their attempt to entitle tens of millions of users to receive damages in December 2022.

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In response to the allegations, Google argued that it "never made any such promise" not to capture data, attempting to have the case dismissed. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed in the joint court filing made by both parties, which also led to the cancellation of the scheduled trial on January 29, 2024. The settlement is subject to court approval, expected by late February 2024.

The lawsuit, filed in Oakland U.S. District Court, accused Google of having an "Orwellian grab" of personal data, giving the company and its employees the ability to learn intimate details about users' lives, interests, and internet usage. The plaintiffs claimed that the company had become an "unaccountable trove of information" that went beyond user expectations of privacy.

In August 2023, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers supported the plaintiffs by acknowledging that users of Incognito mode in Google's Chrome browser could reasonably assume their data would not be collected based on the browser's opening screen. The lawsuit alleged that it collected, aggregated, and sold private browsing data without user consent, even when using other companies' browsers in private modes.

The evidence submitted by the plaintiffs included internal Google communications revealing the storage and use of regular and private browsing data in the same logs for personalized ads. The company argued that its privacy policy expressly disclosed data collection practices and that users had agreed to it.

Judge Gonzalez Rogers certified a class of users for a court order prohibiting Google from intercepting, tracking, or collecting data from users' private browsing. The settlement reached through mediation is now expected to undergo court approval, providing closure to a legal battle that highlighted concerns over user privacy in the digital age.