Google may have found itself in a pickle after three consumers filed a class-action lawsuit valued at $5 billion (R85,1 billion), accusing the search engine of falsely claiming that users can avert data tracking by using its incognito (incog) feature.
Is Google really tracking us in incognito?
The implications inherent in the class-action suit filed by Boies Schiller Flexner are damning, to say the least. The renowned firm has, according to The Irish Times, accused Google of collecting the search data of users who opt to protect their information by using its ‘Incognito’ feature.
The world’s largest search engine claims that “if you don’t want Google Chrome to remember your activity, you can browse the web privately in Incognito mode.”
According to Google, when users search in incog:
- Chrome won’t save your browsing history, cookies and site data, or information entered in forms;
- files you download and bookmarks you create will be kept; and
- your activity isn’t hidden from websites you visit, your employer or school, or your internet service provider.
To be fair, Google has offered up a great directory of information on what it exactly means to browse in private. This information, however, is not readily available and one has to go looking for it.
We will say, though, it was not hard to find.
The activity that is tracked in incog
From what we understand, browsing in incog only prohibits the device you may be using from saving information you may want hidden. Nowhere is it explicitly stated that Google discards data collected from incog searches.
Instead, the search engine lists the data that will still be visible in incog:
- Websites you visit, including the ads and resources used on those sites
- Websites you sign in to
- Your employer, school, or whoever runs the network you’re using
- Your internet service provider
- Search engines
- Search engines may show search suggestions based on your location or activity in your current Incognito browsing session.
Google is also candid with the fact that incog search does not protect your IP address, your activity when you use a web service and our identity if you sign in to a web service, like Gmail.
The argument put forward by Boies Schiller Flexner is that Google places false hope in its users, claiming that they have full access to their data rights and preferences.
The firm contends that this sets a dangerous precedence for users’ rights to privacy since it makes “Google [the] ‘one stop shop’ for any government, private, or criminal actor who wants to undermine individuals’ privacy, security, or freedom.”
The search engine has not issued a statement in response to the suit as yet.