Google users might be surprised to learn that “private” mode doesn’t actually mean that Google won’t track your internet use. Reuters reported that there is a proposed class action lawsuit against Alphabet Inc. that is seeking at least $5 billion. The lawsuit alleges that Google has been illegally invading the privacy of millions by tracking their internet use through browsers set in “private” mode.
The case is Brown et al v Google LLC et al, which was filed in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California. I tried to find more information about this lawsuit, but could not find anything. Typically, a controversial lawsuit, that has the potential to affect many people, is embedded somewhere online. This one does not appear to be.
Google calls their private mode “incognito mode”. It would be reasonable to presume that a private mode would enable users to find information that they would not be comfortable having Google know about. For example, people might choose to look up “intimate and potentially embarrassing things” (as the lawsuit states) in Incognito mode, believing that Google would not track it.
According to the complaint filed in the federal court in San Jose, California, Google gathers data through Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager, and other applications and website plug-ins, including smartphone apps, regardless of whether users click on Google-supported ads.
Google spokesman Jose Castaneda told Reuters: “As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity”. As you may have guessed, Google intends to defend itself vigorously against the claims in the lawsuit.
If this situation troubles you, there are other options. Some people prefer to use more ethical search engines such as Duck Duck Go, or Ecosia (which plants a tree for every search). Mozilla’s Firefox has the capability of blocking certain types of trackers. Keep in mind, though, that nothing on the internet is 100% private.
The lawsuit seeks at least $5,000 of damages per user for violations of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws. It will be very interesting to see if this case gets anywhere. Whenever a gigantic company is the defendant in a lawsuit, I have concerns that the case will disappear before a court can hear it.