The lawsuit was initially filed in 2020 and covers Google’s users from 1 June 2016.
Tech giant Google has reportedly failed to dismiss a $5 billion lawsuit against its alleged invasion of the privacy of millions of users surfing through its ‘incognito mode’, numerous news agencies reported on Tuesday.
A United States District Judge, Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, had rejected Google’s attempts to end the lawsuit on Monday upon concluding that users have not explicitly consented to its collection of their browsing information in private mode.
“Taken as a whole, a triable issue exists as to whether these writings created an enforceable promise that Google would not collect users’ data while they browsed privately,” Rogers wrote in the 36-page decision.
The lawsuit was initially filed in 2020 and covers Google users from 1 June 2016, seeking $5,000 in damages per user under California’s privacy law.
Lawyer David Boies, who is defending the plaintiffs, described the judge’s latest decision as “an important step in protecting the privacy interests of millions of Americans”.
Some of the plaintiffs claimed that Google used analytics and cookies in tracking their activities even while using the ‘incognito’ or private browsing mode on Chrome or Safari.
The breach allegedly enabled Google’s access to information about their friends, shopping habits, and “potentially embarrassing things”, the complainants said, per a Reuters report.
Judge Rogers also mentioned that the plaintiffs have evidence of Google storing their “regular and private browsing data in the same logs”.
“It uses those mixed logs to send users personalised ads; and, even if the individual data points gathered are anonymous by themselves, when aggregated, Google can use them to ‘uniquely identify a user with a high probability of success,” Rogers said.
Google’s spokesman Jose Castaneda strongly dismissed the claims, stressing that the private browsing mode gives users the choice to use the internet without saving their activities.
“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,” Castaneda explained.
Tech experts had previously explained that private browsing modes do not grant users complete privacy, recommending that they decline cookies from third parties by adjusting their settings.