Google Faces New Battles Over 'Incognito' Tracking

In the last two weeks, Google has been hit with privacy lawsuits by thousands of Chrome users who claim the company wrongly collected their data while they browsed in “incognito” mode.

“Notwithstanding consumers’ best efforts, to keep their activities on the internet private, Google has made itself an unaccountable trove of information so detailed and expansive that George Orwell could never have dreamed it,” the plaintiffs allege in complaints brought in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

The new cases were brought almost immediately after Google officially agreed to settle a class-action in federal court over similar allegations. That proposed settlement requires Google to shed some data and revise disclosures about the incognito setting.

While the federal settlement agreement doesn't require Google to pay monetary damages, the deal specifically allows Chrome users to pursue individual lawsuits against the company.



Class counsel in that matter said in court papers filed earlier this month that a "very large number" of individual Chrome users planned to pursue individual suits.

As of last week, at least 90 lawsuits had been filed against Google, and each complaint was brought on behalf of 50 plaintiffs, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

The new cases, like the one in federal court, claim Google collected data from Chrome users who launched a page in incognito mode, despite representing that incognito would allow people to browse privately. They allege that even in incognito mode, visiting a site that uses Google Analytics or Google Ad Manager results in Google's collection of a host of data -- including IP addresses, browser and device information, and data about the websites' content.

“Google unlawfully intercepted plaintiffs’ private browsing communications to collect their personal and sensitive information, without disclosure or consent, including when they in incognito mode visited non-Google websites without being signed into any Google account,” the plaintiffs allege in the new lawsuits.

Google had argued in the federal class-action that incognito users consented to data collection, and therefore couldn't claim their privacy was violated.

When Chrome users command the browser to open an incognito window, they are greeted with a message stating Chrome won't save browsing history, cookies and site data, and information entered in forms. But the message also says that web activity may be “visible” to outside websites.

Last August, U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers rejected the company's bid for summary judgment in its favor.

She said in a written ruling that Google “never explicitly told users” it collected data while they browsed in incognito mode.

“The court cannot find as a matter of law that users explicitly consented to the at-issue data collection,” she wrote.

A Google spokesperson said the new cases are "meritless" and that the company will defend itself vigorously.

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