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Google Settles $5 Billion Lawsuit Over Incognito Mode Tracking

Dec. 29, 2023 5:05 am PST | SEO Gazette | By Luke Ross

Google has reached a settlement in a significant lawsuit alleging that the company tracked users’ internet usage even when they were browsing in “Incognito” mode. This lawsuit, which sought $5 billion in damages, was filed in 2020 in the U.S. District Court Northern District of California. It covered millions of Google users, seeking damages of $5,000 per user or three times actual damages, whichever is greater.

The lawsuit accused Google and its parent company Alphabet Inc. of illegally collecting information about users’ online activities and locations through various applications and website plugins, including Google Analytics and Google Ad Manager. This tracking occurred despite users believing they were browsing privately in Incognito mode.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers had scheduled a trial for February 2024, but it was put on hold following the announcement of the preliminary settlement. The terms of the settlement have not been disclosed, but a formal agreement is expected to be presented to the court for approval by February 24, 2024 according to Fox Business.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that Google’s analytics, cookies, and apps enabled the company to track browsing activity even in Incognito mode, turning the information into an “unaccountable trove” of data about consumers’ preferences and activities. This raised significant privacy concerns, as it included potentially sensitive or embarrassing online searches.

Google had attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed, but Judge Rogers rejected this request. She highlighted the open question of whether Google made a legally binding promise not to collect data from users browsing in private mode. The lawsuit accused Google of violations of federal wire-tapping and California privacy laws.

Broader Ethical Implications for Tech Company Data Practices

This settlement is part of a broader context where large technology firms, including Google, face increased scrutiny over their practices in the U.S. and globally.

Google has also faced other lawsuits challenging its search and digital advertising practices, including a recent $700 million settlement in the groundbreaking antitrust lawsuit over its Play Store on Android devices.

Just two months ago in October, SEO Gazette reported on Meta Platforms, Inc., parent company of Facebook and Instagram, in litigation being sued by a coalition of U.S. Attorneys General with allegations of purposefully targeting addictive features at youth.

For more detailed information on Google’s recent legal challenges and settlements, you can read the full articles on Fox Business, BBC News, and The Washington Post.

Article written by Luke Ross, SEO Gazette LLC

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