Watchdog Weighs In Against Google In Battle Over Chrome Privacy

A privacy watchdog is weighing in against Google in a battle over claims that the company violated Chrome users' privacy by allegedly gathering information about their web browsing activity.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed Thursday with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Electronic Privacy Information Center says a trial judge wrongly ruled that users of the Chrome browser consented to Google's alleged data practices.

That ruling, if it stands, “would eliminate even the modicum of privacy that the common law currently provides to internet users,” the advocacy group writes.

This dispute dates to 2020, when Chrome user Patrick Calhoun and three others alleged in a class-action complaint that Google collected their web-browsing data in violation of statements in Chrome's privacy policy, the federal wiretap law, and various California laws.

Calhoun and the others specifically pointed to the following statement in Chrome's privacy policy: “The personal information that Chrome stores won’t be sent to Google unless you choose to store that data in your Google account by turning on sync.”



Google countered that users consented to the data collection because the company's more general policies -- including its general privacy policy and account holder agreements -- informed people about the company's privacy practices.

U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in the Northern District of California awarded Google summary judgment and dismissed the lawsuit, writing that statements in the Chrome-specific privacy policy “cannot be read in a vacuum or cherry-picked.”

The users recently appealed that ruling to the 9th Circuit. Earlier this week, a Texas-led coalition of states backed the appeal.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center argues in a separate friend-of-the-court brief that Google shouldn't have been able to rely on disclosures in the general policies, given the representations in the Chrome-specific policy.

“When Google makes specific privacy promises to Chrome users, the company should not be allowed to override those promises with blanket disclaimers in its general user agreement,” the group writes.

Google is expected to respond to the arguments in February.

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