Google has been waging war against the abusive practice of tracking users across the Web even as it tries to protect and grow its advertising business that has become synonymous with that. It has introduced new features in Chrome that disable harmful cookies, for example, but not everyone is convinced of its seemingly good intentions. One group has, in fact, filed a lawsuit alleging that Google’s Incognito mode isn’t what it seems to be, a lawsuit that Google just failed to get thrown out of court.
Incognito mode, a.k.a. safe browsing a.k.a. private browsing, has become a standard feature among web browsers that advertise some protection against tracking your activities on the Web. At its most basic, the feature means that the browser itself doesn’t save your browsing history, cookies, or data you enter. In other words, the browser itself won’t track you but it’s what Chrome allows others to do that has gotten Google into trouble.
Last June, three users filed a class-action suit alleging that Google still continues tracking those users despite the promises contained in Incognito mode. To be fair, Incognito mode isn’t “invisible mode”, as Google argues, and the new Chrome window that pops up in that mode does warn users that websites, as well as work or school IT administrators and ISPs, might still be able to track you. Those would be outside Google’s direct control unless users use other protection features from Chrome or third parties.
The situation gets a bit murky, however, when one considers that many of these websites do use Google services for those ads and analytics which, in turn, also gives Google some of those user data anyway. At least that’s what the lawsuit accuses the search and advertising giant of doing and federal judge Lucy Koh of “Apple v Samsung” fame sided with the plaintiffs and ruled that Google will have to face the lawsuit.
Unsurprisingly, Google strongly disputed those claims and says it will defend itself vigorously. That pretty much means that the plaintiffs will be in for quite a ride against Google’s bigger legal and financial resources, despite this initial victory in their favor. The lawsuit is seeking at least $5 billion.