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Google agrees to settle $5b lawsuit over alleged invasion of privacy in incognito mode deception

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Google has opted to settle a consumer privacy lawsuit, initially filed in 2020, that sought a staggering $5 billion in damages.

The lawsuit revolved around allegations that the tech giant had surreptitiously tracked user data despite assurances of privacy while using the “incognito” mode on its Chrome browser.

Court documents revealed that internal Google emails presented during the lawsuit exposed the contradiction between user expectations and the reality of incognito mode.

While users believed their online activities remained private, Google was, in fact, tracking them for web traffic measurement and targeted advertising.

The class action lawsuit, representing potentially millions of affected individuals, accused Google of providing a false sense of privacy through the incognito mode.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs sought a minimum compensation of $5,000 for each user tracked via Google Analytics or Ad Manager services during private browsing, even when not logged into their Google account.

Although the settlement amount has not been disclosed, legal experts speculate that it is unlikely to reach the originally sought $5 billion figure.

The preliminary agreement, confirmed by the judge, comes after Google’s unsuccessful attempt to have the case decided by a judge, with a jury trial previously scheduled for the coming year.

The lawsuit, filed in California, contended that Google’s practices constituted a deliberate infringement on users’ privacy by misleading them through the incognito option.

The original complaint painted a stark picture, accusing Google of amassing an unparalleled repository of detailed and expansive information about individuals’ lives, interests, and internet usage, evoking comparisons to George Orwell’s dystopian vision.

With no comments provided by Google or the consumers’ lawyers, the settlement marks another instance where tech giants face accountability through class action lawsuits over data privacy concerns.

The formal settlement is anticipated to undergo court approval by February 24, 2024, underscoring the growing role of such legal actions in addressing privacy issues in a landscape where the United States lacks a comprehensive law governing personal data handling.

This settlement follows a trend in the tech industry, where companies like Google and Meta (Facebook’s parent company) have recently paid substantial amounts to resolve privacy-related cases, highlighting the increasing importance of class action lawsuits as a means to address data privacy matters involving major tech entities.

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