Google fails to end 'private browsing' snooping lawsuit

Posted:
in Mac Software edited March 13
Google has failed to convince a court to kill off a $5 billion class-action lawsuit alleging it continues to track users despite efforts to turn off data collection, including "private browsing" modes in Safari and other browsers.




A class-action lawsuit from June 2020 claimed Google was able to track the online habits of web users, in spite of attempts by users to prevent such tracking from taking place. In a Friday ruling from U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh for the Northern District of California, Google's attempt to throw out the lawsuit was denied.

The lawsuit alleges Google collects data on its users through a "pervasive data tracking business," with it collecting browsing history and other online activities. Crucially, the lawsuit insists such tracking is done even if "incognito" mode in Chrome is used, or any other "private browsing" modes are engaged in browsers like Safari.

All of this is allegedly done without the user's permission. However, Bloomberg reports Google argued that the consent was provided by users, with the privacy policy explicitly disclosing its data collection processes.

Furthermore, Google also claimed that there is no expectation of privacy for anyone attempting to use any private browsing modes.

"Google also makes it clear that Incognito 'does not mean invisible,' and that the user's activity during that session may be visible to websites they visit, and any third-party analytics or ad services the visited websites used," the search giant argued.

In her ruling, Judge Koh wrote "The court concludes that Google did not notify users that Google engages in the alleged data collection while the user is in private browsing mode," while dismissing the attempt to toss the case.

During the hearing on February 26, Koh admitted she was "disturbed" by Google's practices. Koh also proposed it was odd for a company like Google to make the "extra effort" of collecting the data if it didn't use that same data for targeted advertising.

The $5 billion lawsuit seeks $5,000 in damages per user for violating federal wiretapping and California privacy laws.

The lawsuit update arrives at a sensitive time for Google's ad business, which could be affected by Apple's Ad Tracking Transparency update for iOS 14. The update will force app developers to seek permission to track the user's device, activity that enables targeted advertising systems like Google's to function.

On March 3, Google reaffirmed plans to remove ad-tracking cookies from Chrome by 2022 and would work to create a "more privacy-first web." It is likely that Google can phase out the use of cookies in favor of other alternative tracking techniques, in part due to its size and reach in advertising.


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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 13
    WgkruegerWgkrueger Posts: 285member
    A couple of years ago I read an article about an experiment to see if they could be totally Google free in their internet use. This person had to go to a ludicrous amount of net filtering to remove all connections to Google.com when they hit the web. Apparently Google has their fingers in almost every corner of the internet. It would be interesting to see if this is or will be part of the lawsuit.
    olswatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 13
    viclauyycviclauyyc Posts: 650member
    Even for google, 5bn is a pretty big ouch. I hope California win all the way to the Supreme Court. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 13
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,010member
    When will people finally be educated  and willing to admit that Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the rest make money only one way, collecting/tracking customer data and selling it to advertisers? They have no other significant sources of revenue. If they can’t track people they can’t exist, period. How hard is that to understand? 

    Money shot...

    "Furthermore, Google also claimed that there is no expectation of privacy for anyone attempting to use any private browsing modes.”

    Is that ‘Newspeak’ or what?
    edited March 13 olsbageljoeyfotoformatwilliamlondonGeorgeBMacStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 13
    ppietrappietra Posts: 247member
    lkrupp said:
    When will people finally be educated  and willing to admit that Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the rest make money only one way, collecting/tracking customer data and selling it to advertisers? They have no other significant sources of revenue. If they can’t track people they can’t exist, period. How hard is that to understand? 

    Money shot...

    "Furthermore, Google also claimed that there is no expectation of privacy for anyone attempting to use any private browsing modes.”

    Is that ‘Newspeak’ or what?
    companies can still make money from advertising without tracking. They track in order to make even more money and because it gives them an advantage over other competitors in the ad business.
    One big problem is that somehow people started thinking that there is no alternative to tracking... that advertising can only be done with tracking... that many companies will be out of business without tracking and because of this they are entitled to do it.
    edited March 13 FileMakerFellerwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 13
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 2,942member
    "Google also claimed that there is no expectation of privacy for anyone attempting to use any private browsing modes" Huh? only a lawyer could say that with a straight face.

    I suppose when they lose they're going to argue that the court should have no expectation of payment when it issues fines.
    muthuk_vanalingamwilliamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 13
    chasmchasm Posts: 2,340member
    Dear Google:

    Judge Koh has kindly informed you that you are going to lose at trial when this gets there. I suggest you at least amend "private browsing mode" to actually be private. There's nobody on this planet that isn't in your employ who thinks that you're not misleading users with that title. Ditto "incognito."
    baconstangmuthuk_vanalingamwilliamlondonStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 13

    Furthermore, Google also claimed that there is no expectation of privacy for anyone attempting to use any private browsing modes. 
    This has always been the case. Around the time Private Browsing Mode was introduced in Safari I remember reading somewhere that it didn’t hide your activity from websites or tracking, it only hid your activity on your computer. The example provided was something along the lines of, “if you are shopping for your spouse you can use PBM so they won’t accidentally see your what web pages you visited in your history”. Also, no history of the porn sites you visited.

    I’m pretty sure even Apple doesn’t say that PBM hides all your activity on the web from everyone. How would that even be possible?

    Edit: I searched apple.com for “private browsing mode” and found this:

    https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT210337

    “ Turn Private Browsing on or off on your iPad

    When you use Private Browsing, you can visit websites without creating a search history in Safari.

    Private Browsing protects your private information and blocks some websites from tracking your search behavior. Safari won't remember the pages you visit, your search history, or your AutoFill information.”

    The only expectation of privacy is privacy from someone else using Safari (for example), under the same login, on the same computer. That’s it. I’m am no fan of Google, the only Google product I use is YouTube and that’s only occasionally, but I don’t think they’re particularly out of line with that particular quote.

    edited March 13 fotoformatgatorguy
  • Reply 8 of 13
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 9,269member

    ....
    "Google also makes it clear that Incognito 'does not mean invisible,' and that the user's activity during that session may be visible to websites they visit, and any third-party analytics or ad services the visited websites used," the search giant argued.

    ...
    THIS is why they tell us to close our browser after visiting, say, a financial website (or any site where we do not want it to become public knowledge that we visited.

    It is why I maintain a computer used exclusively for my financial matters (It's only used to visit secure financial sites -- nothing else).
    It is also why I only use private browsing on it
    It is also why I close its browser after each site I visit
    It is also why I clean it of junk files & any possible historical/tracking data after each use.

    Yeh, I know Google and the rest have already found a way to track me.   But I'll continue to do my best to minimize it -- at least for critical stuff like my finances.



  • Reply 9 of 13
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 22,828member
    chasm said:
    Dear Google:

    Judge Koh has kindly informed you that you are going to lose at trial when this gets there. I suggest you at least amend "private browsing mode" to actually be private. There's nobody on this planet that isn't in your employ who thinks that you're not misleading users with that title. Ditto "incognito."
     This is another example of you not actually understanding what you comment on before posting. "Incognito" is what Google calls their version of Safari's "Private Browsing Mode".  It IS their private browsing referred to in this article. Your "ditto" makes no sense. Both company's browser modes perform the same service for a user, search history and website visits not being saved on your own devices, even if Apple and Google call it by a different name.

    So for instance when you turn on Google's Incognito window or Apple's Private Browsing and visit a couple of porn sites, or search that special birthday present for a family member, the record of you doing so is not saved.  Your browser doesn't "remember" and your family won't know about it. That does not mean the 3rd party websites you visited could not have collected some personally identifiable data during your session. So to be perfectly accurate it was not "private" in the strictest sense which is probably why the lawsuit is allowed to continue (despite the full-page notice when you start it, see below)

    If Google is being deceptive with Incognito, aka Private Browsing, Apple is being equally so aren't they? This is the full-screen disclaimer when you invoke Incognito Mode in Chrome. Would you mind posting the disclaimer when you turn on Private Browsing in Safari so we can compare the two?

    You've gone incognito

    Now you can browse privately, and other people who use this device won't see your activity. However, downloads and bookmarks will be saved. Learn more

    Chrome won't save the following information:
    • Your browsing history
    • Cookies and site data
    • Information entered in forms
    Your activity might still be visible to:
    • Websites you visit
    • Your employer or school
    • Your internet service provider
    Block third-party cookies -(Toggle switch. Mine is "On")
    When on, sites can't use cookies that track you across the web. Features on some sites may break.
     
    edited March 14 avon b7
  • Reply 10 of 13
    MplsP said:
    "Google also claimed that there is no expectation of privacy for anyone attempting to use any private browsing modes" Huh? only a lawyer could say that with a straight face.

    I suppose when they lose they're going to argue that the court should have no expectation of payment when it issues fines.
    Google is unlikely to lose imo.  Incognito Mode is very descript in what it is and how it functions..  Here's the splash page.  
    1615742208423png
    chasm said:
    Dear Google:

    Judge Koh has kindly informed you that you are going to lose at trial when this gets there. I suggest you at least amend "private browsing mode" to actually be private. There's nobody on this planet that isn't in your employ who thinks that you're not misleading users with that title. Ditto "incognito."

    Private Browsing is Apple's nomenclature, not Google's.  Private Browsing also functions just like Incognito Mode.
  • Reply 11 of 13
    Wgkrueger said:
    A couple of years ago I read an article about an experiment to see if they could be totally Google free in their internet use. This person had to go to a ludicrous amount of net filtering to remove all connections to Google.com when they hit the web. Apparently Google has their fingers in almost every corner of the internet. It would be interesting to see if this is or will be part of the lawsuit.
    You're referencing the series of articles by Gizmodo.  The author sequentially cut the Big 5 tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft) from her life and detailed each experience.  Finally she cut all 5 simultaneously.  Details here: https://gizmodo.com/c/goodbye-big-five ;

    None of that is related to this issue.  The issue here is a claim that users are unaware that they are secretly tracked while using Incognito Mode on Chrome.  Personally don't think this case has any legs because 1) Incognito Mode functions just like Private Browsing on Safari, InPrivate on Edge or Private Mode on Firefox.  2) There's a huge informational splash page that tells the user how the mode functions.

    Incognito Mode, Private Browsing, InPrivate, and Private Mode (along with others) exist primarily to obscure the browsing history of one individual from any others who may use the same devise.  Some examples:  Shared work/school computer or library computer.  Family desktop when shopping for Xmas, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.  In all those examples the info can be tracked by one or more of the following: ISP, school/employer, visited website.
  • Reply 12 of 13
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,254member
    gatorguy said:
    chasm said:
    Dear Google:

    Judge Koh has kindly informed you that you are going to lose at trial when this gets there. I suggest you at least amend "private browsing mode" to actually be private. There's nobody on this planet that isn't in your employ who thinks that you're not misleading users with that title. Ditto "incognito."
     This is another example of you not actually understanding what you comment on before posting. "Incognito" is what Google calls their version of Safari's "Private Browsing Mode".  It IS their private browsing referred to in this article. Your "ditto" makes no sense. Both company's browser modes perform the same service for a user, search history and website visits not being saved on your own devices, even if Apple and Google call it by a different name.

    So for instance when you turn on Google's Incognito window or Apple's Private Browsing and visit a couple of porn sites, or search that special birthday present for a family member, the record of you doing so is not saved.  Your browser doesn't "remember" and your family won't know about it. That does not mean the 3rd party websites you visited could not have collected some personally identifiable data during your session. So to be perfectly accurate it was not "private" in the strictest sense which is probably why the lawsuit is allowed to continue (despite the full-page notice when you start it, see below)

    If Google is being deceptive with Incognito, aka Private Browsing, Apple is being equally so aren't they? This is the full-screen disclaimer when you invoke Incognito Mode in Chrome. Would you mind posting the disclaimer when you turn on Private Browsing in Safari so we can compare the two?

    You've gone incognito

    Now you can browse privately, and other people who use this device won't see your activity. However, downloads and bookmarks will be saved. Learn more

    Chrome won't save the following information:
    • Your browsing history
    • Cookies and site data
    • Information entered in forms
    Your activity might still be visible to:
    • Websites you visit
    • Your employer or school
    • Your internet service provider
    Block third-party cookies -(Toggle switch. Mine is "On")
    When on, sites can't use cookies that track you across the web. Features on some sites may break.
     
    I agree, this is how I understand both to operate.  They are a better than nothing and useful mode.  So, what was the birthday present?  ;)
  • Reply 13 of 13
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 22,828member
    MacPro said:
    gatorguy said:
    chasm said:
    Dear Google:

    Judge Koh has kindly informed you that you are going to lose at trial when this gets there. I suggest you at least amend "private browsing mode" to actually be private. There's nobody on this planet that isn't in your employ who thinks that you're not misleading users with that title. Ditto "incognito."
     This is another example of you not actually understanding what you comment on before posting. "Incognito" is what Google calls their version of Safari's "Private Browsing Mode".  It IS their private browsing referred to in this article. Your "ditto" makes no sense. Both company's browser modes perform the same service for a user, search history and website visits not being saved on your own devices, even if Apple and Google call it by a different name.

    So for instance when you turn on Google's Incognito window or Apple's Private Browsing and visit a couple of porn sites, or search that special birthday present for a family member, the record of you doing so is not saved.  Your browser doesn't "remember" and your family won't know about it. That does not mean the 3rd party websites you visited could not have collected some personally identifiable data during your session. So to be perfectly accurate it was not "private" in the strictest sense which is probably why the lawsuit is allowed to continue (despite the full-page notice when you start it, see below)

    If Google is being deceptive with Incognito, aka Private Browsing, Apple is being equally so aren't they? This is the full-screen disclaimer when you invoke Incognito Mode in Chrome. Would you mind posting the disclaimer when you turn on Private Browsing in Safari so we can compare the two?

    You've gone incognito

    Now you can browse privately, and other people who use this device won't see your activity. However, downloads and bookmarks will be saved. Learn more

    Chrome won't save the following information:
    • Your browsing history
    • Cookies and site data
    • Information entered in forms
    Your activity might still be visible to:
    • Websites you visit
    • Your employer or school
    • Your internet service provider
    Block third-party cookies -(Toggle switch. Mine is "On")
    When on, sites can't use cookies that track you across the web. Features on some sites may break.
     
    I agree, this is how I understand both to operate.  They are a better than nothing and useful mode.  So, what was the birthday present?  ;)
    You knew about the birthday present? I didn't know I had mentioned it here so perhaps you saw that elsewhere, but it was a pretty expensive lens she knew I wanted. I know we're both photographers so you can of course know why I appreciate the gift so much. She worked two 48 hour weekends for it, making it even more special. Yeah, I'm a very lucky man. 
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