Google Has Settled A $5 Billion Lawsuit For Incognito Mode Tracking

In a significant legal development, Google has reached a preliminary settlement in a lawsuit accusing the tech giant of secretly tracking the internet activities of millions of users who believed they were browsing in private.

The proposed class action sought at least $5 billion in damages and was set to go to trial in February. However, US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland, California, has temporarily halted the trial following the announcement of the preliminary settlement.

The lawsuit, filed in 2020, alleged that Google’s analytics, cookies, and apps allowed the company to track user activity, even when individuals utilized Google’s Chrome browser in “incognito” mode or other browsers in “private” browsing mode. The plaintiffs argued that this tracking transformed Google into an “unaccountable trove of information,” providing insights into users’ friends, hobbies, preferences, shopping habits, and potentially sensitive online searches.

The settlement terms were not disclosed, but lawyers on both sides confirmed the agreement of a binding term sheet through mediation. A formal settlement proposal is anticipated to be presented for court approval by February 24, 2024.

US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers had previously rejected Google’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit in August. The judge questioned whether Google had made a legally binding commitment not to collect users’ data during private browsing. Citing Google’s privacy policy and statements from the company implying limitations on data collection, she emphasized the need for further examination.

The lawsuit, covering “millions” of Google users since June 1, 2016, sought damages of at least $5,000 per user, citing violations of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws. The settlement, if approved, marks a pivotal moment in the ongoing discourse surrounding online privacy and the responsibilities of tech companies in safeguarding user data.

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