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Google Sued for $5 Billion for Tracking Users, Even Those Using 'Incognito' Mode

Yet another reminder that your "incognito" browsing is not as private as you believe.
Google headquarters in California. Photo courtesy of Google

If you’ve been browsing through some porn on a Google Chrome ‘incognito’ window assuming that the trail will be wiped clean the minute you exit it, you’re in for some bad news. Turns out the incognito mode—which gives users the choice to search the internet without their activity being saved to the browser or device—is not really all that ‘incognito’. A class-action lawsuit was filed against the company on June 2 claiming that the internet giant illegally invades the privacy of users by tracking people, even when they choose to surf using the private mode.


The lawsuit, which seeks at least $5 billion in damages, said that even when a user chose private browsing to have his data protected, Google used tracking tools—like Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager and other applications and website plug-ins, including smartphone apps—to gather user data. The incognito mode in Google's Chrome gives users the chance to browse the internet without their activity being saved, but “Google tracks and collects consumer browsing history and other web activity data no matter what safeguards consumers undertake to protect their data privacy,” states the complaint. This helps Google learn about users’ friends, hobbies, favorite foods, shopping habits, and even the “most intimate and potentially embarrassing things” they search for online, the complaint further said.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three people—Chasom Brown and Maria Nguyen, and William Byatt—in California and while Google has faced several other lawsuits over its data collection, this one tries to use the Federal Wiretap Act—which states that users have the right to sue if their private conversations are intercepted. The lawsuit claims that Google intercepts the contents of communication between users and websites by collecting browsing history. The lawsuit also said that Google’s practices deceived consumers into believing that they maintain control of the information shared with the company.

“Incognito mode in Chrome gives you the choice to browse the internet without your activity being saved to your browser or device,” Google spokesman Jose Castaneda, strongly disputed these claims and said to The New York Times. “As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity during your session.”

A joint study from Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pennsylvania last year investigated more than 22,000 sex websites—which most people visit with their private mode enabled—and revealed that 93 percent of these pages tracked and leaked users’ data to third-party organisations.

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