Google agrees to Rs 41,000 crore settlement in Chrome incognito mode lawsuit
The lawsuit claimed that even when users accessed websites using Google's technologies, the company continued to track site visits and activities, violating users' expectations of privacy
Last week, Google reached a tentative settlement of about Rs 41,000 crore or ($5 billion) in a class-action lawsuit that accused the tech giant of improperly collecting personal data from users in the "private browsing mode" of its Chrome browser. The suit alleged that Google misled users by suggesting that their internet activities would not be tracked while using the browser's private mode, also known as "incognito mode".
The lawsuit claimed that even when users accessed websites utilising Google's technologies, the company continued to track their site visits and activities, violating users' expectations of privacy. Plaintiffs argued that Google's actions resulted in an "unaccountable trove of information" about users who believed they were taking steps to safeguard their privacy.
The settlement, while still pending approval by a federal judge in the United States, is expected to conclude by 24 February. The terms of the settlement were not disclosed initially, as lawyers for the plaintiffs stated they would present the final agreement to the court by the specified date.
Google has not issued an immediate response to requests for comments on the settlement.
Privacy experts cautioned users that while Google Chrome's Incognito mode does not save browsing history, users who are signed in to their Google accounts might still have their searches recorded in the web history. Users are advised to sign out of their accounts or pause Google web history tracking to ensure privacy.
Additionally, experts suggested that users could create a desktop shortcut for Google Chrome, renaming it if desired, and add "-incognito" to the target field to directly open the browser in incognito mode. This may provide an extra layer of privacy for users concerned about their online activities being tracked.
Media reports said in February, Google Chrome updated its incognito mode, explicitly warning users that while their browsing history and search history wouldn't be saved, it wouldn't prevent surveillance by entities like secret agents.
It's worth noting that Google Chrome is not the exclusive provider of private browsing options. Other popular browsers such as Safari on iOS and desktop, as well as Firefox, offer similar features. Users are encouraged to explore these alternatives based on their preferences and devices.
Cybersecurity community site Dark Reading quoted Robert Duncan, VP of strategy at Netcraft as saying, "Google is in an interesting position, maintaining a popular web browser that offers a privacy mode and, at the same time, being highly motivated to serve relevant ads to users. A settlement in this case merely highlights this challenging position."
Duncan further emphasised that private browsing modes in many user-friendly browsers are not foolproof in guaranteeing online privacy, as ISPs, corporate networks, and other services can still potentially track usage. He explained that requests from browsers to websites not to track, even when perfectly implemented, can be ignored by websites and online services, underscoring the complexities of maintaining online privacy.