Google Hit with a Giant $5 Billion Class Action Suit for Alleged Privacy Violations
Many internet users have long accused the internet giant Google of violating their privacy in various ways. Privacy has been a buzzword around Google as the company recognizes that it has an obligation to protect its users' privacy. However, in one of the larger class action lawsuits filed in recent memory, Google users are seeking $5 billion in damages for what they claim is a massive invasion of their privacy when the company allegedly tracked private internet use. This covers users who surfed the internet in "incognito" mode and claim that Google was still tracking what they viewed on the internet.
We will not speculate why Google users choose incognito mode when they use the internet. Suffice it to say, many on the internet have their own legitimate reasons why wanted to execute web searched and browsing in what they believe is absolute privacy. However, the lawsuit claims that, even when Google tells you that it is not tracking you, it is still collecting information that it can use to monetize your internet activity.
For users, this means that potentially sensitive and embarrassing information is out of their hands and into the hands of Google. The plaintiffs believe that the collection of this information is covert and illegal.
The Lawsuits Allege Violations of California Laws and Federal Wiretapping Statutes
The plaintiffs allege that this behavior violates both California and federal laws. Specifically, the plaintiffs claim that tracking internet users history when they believe that their searches are private is an illegal form of wiretapping under federal law. Wiretapping is defined as an interception of a private communication. When it occurs, the person has a legal right to sue the party that intercepts the communication for damages.
One of the concerns that users have about Google is that it may have the ability to track and synthesize browsing history over multiple browsing modes. In other words, both private and regular web browsing could be used by Google to build your web profile. The lawsuit claims that Google used tools such as Google Analytics, the Google Ad Manager and the Google Sign-In with private web browsing but does not inform their users of this when they open up an incognito browsing session. Users believe that Google creates an expectation of privacy that its product does not ultimately deliver.
The attorneys for the class are seeking damages of up to $5,000 for each Google user. Damages for Google could run into the many billions of dollars if the plaintiffs are successful. The plaintiffs are represented by the law firm run by David Boies, who is one of the most recognizable trial attorneys in the United States.
Google Claims it Never Promises Absolute Privacy in Any Mode
What this lawsuit may boil down to is a difference of opinion between Google and its users about what incognito mode really means. Certainly, this mode means that your internet search history remains invisible to others who use your device, but it is not completely invisible. However, Google claims that incognito mode does not mean that you have privacy from Google and its ability to monitor your internet traffic. The company states that it may still collect data about your usage even when the user is in a private mode. In other words, Google seems to admit the conduct that the complaint addresses but does not think that it is illegal.
Google seems to be saying that users overestimate the level of privacy that incognito mode gives them. In other words, incognito is not a complete guarantee of privacy, which does not seem to exist when one is browsing the internet.
This lawsuit follows numerous other lawsuits and regulatory actions against the internet giant for its privacy practices. Last year, Google entered into a $5.5 million settlement of a lawsuit that claimed that Google used cookies that made it past cookie blockers on several web browsers. In addition, Arizona recently filed a consumer fraud lawsuit against Google for using deceptive practices to obtain users' location data. This comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed by New Mexico against Google for violating child privacy laws with its educational platform.
This lawsuit ensures that privacy issues will be on the front burner for Google for some time to come. Regulators and other parties have a keen interest in the outcome as there has been talk of breaking up Google on antitrust grounds.
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