Google faces class action for allegedly tracking private browsing activity

The lawsuit claims that Google still tracks and collects users' personal information even when they are browsing the internet in private browsing mode.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor

A class action was filed against Google on Tuesday, accusing the tech giant of invading the privacy of millions of users without their knowledge by tracking internet use even when using private browsing mode.

The class action accuses Google of tracking and collecting consumer browsing history and other web activity data even when using private browsing mode.

The complaint, filed to the District Court of Northern California, claims Google tracks users' browsing data and other identifying information through Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager, and various other application and website plug-ins, such as Google applications on mobile devices and the Google Sign-In button for websites regardless of what mode of browsing is chosen.

According to the plaintiffs, when an internet user visits a webpage or opens an app that uses Google's services, which are allegedly used by over 70% of all online publishers, the user's personal information, such as the user's IP address, what the user is viewing, what the user last viewed, and details about the user's hardware are sent to the company's servers in California.

The plaintiffs added that this is almost always done without the user's knowledge as Google does not require websites to disclose upfront that Google is collecting the visitors' information regardless of how web browsers are used. Due to this, the class action accuses Google of accessing the personal information of individuals without consent.

"Google takes the data regardless of whether the user actually clicks on a Google-supported advertisement -- or even knows of its existence. This means that billions of times a day, Google causes computers around the world to report the real-time internet communications of hundreds of millions of people to Google," the plaintiffs wrote in the complaint.

"Google's practices infringe upon users' privacy; intentionally deceive consumers; give Google and its employees power to learn intimate details about individuals' lives, interests, and internet usage; and make Google 'one stop shopping' for any government, private, or criminal actor who wants to undermine individuals' privacy, security, or freedom."

The class action will be open to anyone that owns an Android device and viewed a website page containing Google Analytics or Ad Manager in private browsing mode on that device, and individuals with a Google account who accessed a website page containing those services using a non-Android device in private browsing mode.

The class action is seeking $5,000 in damages per user, or three times actual damages, whichever is greater for the alleged invasion of privacy and is expected to consist of "millions of individuals".

The Arizona attorney-general similarly filed a complaint against Google last week, alleging that the company deceptively tracked users based on various sources of location data. This particular lawsuit accused Google of designing its Android operating system in a way so that even when consumers turned off location services, location records, such as map, weather, and search data, were still being collected.

Google is also facing litigation in Australia and the United Kingdom for allegedly conducting deceptive and misleading tracking practices. 

Google parted with $170 million in September last year to settle a case with the US Federal Trade Commission and New York attorney-general that had accused the company of illegally collecting the personal information of children via YouTube.


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