Google faces $5 Billion in class action for tracking private browsing activity

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Any one paying attention to what has been happening on the Internet these past few years knows that Google collects your personal information and resells it to other data collection companies and advertisers. That’s that core of their business model.

As a result they have been criticized – globally – for that practice, and sued multiple times for violating user privacy standards. But Google is not alone. Facebook is now moving into the same category as Google in personal data collection, with Microsoft (via Windows 10) not far behind.

A class action was filed against Google this week, accusing the tech giant of invading the privacy of millions of users without their knowledge by tracking and collecting Internet use even when using private browsing mode.

The lawsuit claims that Google still tracks and collects users’ personal information even when they are browsing the internet in private browsing mode. Previously, Google has said they don’t collect information if a user in in private browsing mode.

To be fair, Private Mode (or Incognito Mode) only keeps from saving your Internet activities on your computer, not Google itself, nor your ISPs.

But, guess what, pants-on-fire, they lied.

The complaint, filed to the District Court of Northern California, claims Google tracks users’ browsing data and other identifying information. It does this through Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager, and various other applications and website plug-ins, regardless of what device or mode of browsing is chosen.

According to the plaintiffs, when an internet user visits a webpage or opens an app that uses Google’s services, which are allegedly used by over 70% of all online publishers, the user’s personal information, such as the user’s IP address, what the user is viewing, what the user last viewed, and details about the user’s hardware are sent to the company’s servers in California.

The plaintiffs added that this is almost always done without the user’s knowledge as Google does not require websites to disclose upfront that Google is collecting the visitors’ information regardless of how web browsers are used. Due to this, the class action accuses Google of accessing the personal information of individuals without consent.

“Google takes the data regardless of whether the user actually clicks on a Google-supported advertisement — or even knows of its existence. This means that billions of times a day, Google causes computers around the world to report the real-time internet communications of hundreds of millions of people to Google,” the plaintiffs wrote in the complaint.

“Google’s practices infringe upon users’ privacy; intentionally deceive consumers; give Google and its employees power to learn intimate details about individuals’ lives, interests, finances, and internet usage; and make Google ‘one stop shopping’ for any government, private, or criminal actor who wants to undermine individuals’ privacy, security, or freedom.”

“Google tracks and collects consumer browsing history and other web activity data no matter what safeguards consumers undertake to protect their data privacy,” said the complaint. By adopting these practices, the complaint added, Google is in violation of the Federal Wiretap Act, a statute that grants users the right to sue if their private communications are tapped.

The class action will be open to anyone that viewed a website page containing Google Analytics or Ad Manager in private browsing mode on that device, and individuals with a Google account who accessed a website any page containing those services.

The class action is seeking $5,000 in damages per user, or three times actual damages, whichever is greater for the alleged invasion of privacy and is expected to consist of “millions of individuals”.

The Arizona attorney-general similarly filed a complaint against Google last week, alleging that the company deceptively tracked users based on various sources of location data. Even if you have Location Services turned off, they still track your location based on the users originating IP addresses and end point of the website. This means that location records, such as map, weather, and search data, were still being collected.

Google is also facing litigation in Australia and the United Kingdom for allegedly conducting deceptive and misleading tracking practices.

Google parted with $170 million in September last year to settle a case with the US Federal Trade Commission and New York attorney-general that had accused the company of illegally collecting the personal information of children via YouTube.






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