Google settles $5 billion privacy washing lawsuit for undisclosed amount
By Ethan Huff // Jan 05, 2024

The days of Google's tech dominance are numbered as the search engine giant faces more litigation for secretly tracking Chrome web browser users while in "Incognito Mode."

A corporation under the Alphabet family of companies, Google recently settled a case for an undisclosed amount that sought $5 billion in damages for the tech giant's Chrome spying functionality while in private mode, which tricks users into thinking that their web-browsing habits are a family affair.

If a web browser such as Chrome tells a user that he or she is "incognito" and can "browse privately," as Chrome promises, then this should be what happens, both plaintiffs and a judge have determined. Chrome, however, still spies on users even when they think they are browsing privately, hence the legal case.

Proton's Ben Wolford commented on the case that whenever Google's notion of "privacy" conflicts with actual legal principles as codified in the law, Google almost always loses.

"Privacy washing is Google's attempt to portray its services as private, even as it sweeps vast amounts of your personal data into its profitable advertising engine," reported the Exposé. "It may work for marketing, but it doesn't work in the courts."

(Related: Heavily censored Pfizer documents show that the Wuhan coronavirus [COVID-19] "pandemic" initiated a five-year mass depopulation plan that is scheduled to reach completion by 2025.)

Google hates privacy

Last year, Google introduced a new "ad privacy feature" for Chrome, as well as expanded the release of a beta version of Ad Topics for Android, both matters relating to Google's misleadingly named Privacy Sandbox initiative.

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Google says this initiative is all about protecting user privacy, but watchdogs say the Privacy Sandbox initiative is just a disguised power grab in which Google is trying to "give itself total monopolistic control over the ability to spy on user activity as a 'private feature.'"

In 2008, Google launched Incognito Mode as an alleged "privacy" option for Chrome, which now boasts over three billion users globally. While Incognito Mode appears to hide browsing activity locally, meaning on a user's personal computer, it does not prevent browsing data from reaching Google itself.

Once this loophole, of sorts, was discovered, a group of five plaintiffs in 2020 filed a lawsuit against Google, alleging multiple violations including the federal wiretapping law, California privacy laws, breach of contract and other counts.

The plaintiffs sought "at least" $5 billion in damages because Google promised not to collect user data while Chrome is operating in Incognito Mode, but did so anyway. The lawsuit in question covers millions of Google users who have been using Chrome and other Google products since June 1, 2016. The case seeks at least $5,000 in damages per user.

In its defense, Google is arguing that Incognito Mode is a valid feature of Chrome that informs users that even when they open a private tab, Google and visited websites can still track users' browsing activity.

Google tried, but failed, to convince a federal judge in California to dismiss the case. Instead, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland paved the way for the plaintiffs' case against Google to go to trial.

In Judge Rogers' view, when people activate a feature called "incognito," they are relying on a common sense meaning of this word to assert a reasonable expectation of privacy, which they are not being afforded by Google while using Chrome in Incognito Mode.

"It's a direct rebuke of privacy watching," commented Wolford about Judge Rogers' decision.

Judge Rogers had scheduled a trial for Feb. 5, 2024, but on Dec. 28, 2023, the proposed class action was put on hold after lawyers for Google and the plaintiffs announced that they had reached a preliminary settlement for an unknown amount.

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