Google to Face Lawsuit for Tracking Users in Incognito Mode

Spilling the beans on your deep, dark secrets of private web browsing.
Friday 5 June 2020
We're watching you. Photo: Unsplash

Google has been accused of invading people’s privacy and tracking internet use even when browsers are set to incognito mode. The proposed US$5 billion class action lawsuit was filed on June 2, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. 

The not so private web browser mode

According to CNET, the lawsuit alleges that Google broke wiretapping and privacy laws by continuing to “intercept, track, and collect communications” even when people use Chrome’s incognito mode. In doing so, Google learned the “most intimate and potentially embarrassing things” about users’ searches by gathering data through Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager and other apps and web plug-ins.

The complaint further added that the proposed class likely includes “millions” of Google users who since June 1, 2016 browsed the internet in incognito mode. It seeks at least US$5,000 of damages per user for violations of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws.

Concerns surrounding incognito mode browsing 

incognito mode browsing on google
How much do you value your online privacy? Photo: Unsplash


While most users may consider private mode browsing as a safe space, computer security researchers have long raised concern that Google and rivals might augment user profiles by tracking people’s identities across different browsing modes, combining data from private and ordinary internet surfing.

Google has also been previously accused of personalising search results in incognito mode by rival and privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo — a claim that further suggests the company’s private browsing mode isn’t as anonymous as we might think. The study which required participants to log out and to search the same term in incognito mode, revealed that while the results should logically be similar, turned out to be unique to different users. 

Unsurprisingly, Google hit back at the current lawsuit with claims that the private browsing mode was never 100% free of user tracking. “As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity,” said Jose Castaneda, a Google spokesman. 

Source: CNET, TNW