Google Agrees To Settle $5B ‘Incognito Mode’ Privacy Lawsuit

Tech behemoth Google announced last Thursday it has agreed to settle a $5 billion lawsuit directly implicating online privacy and corporate accountability. The settlement arises from allegations that Google tracked users in “Incognito Mode,” a feature offered in its Chrome browser that claims it is designed to enable private browsing.

The class action lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Francisco federal court in 2020. The complaint filed in the case accused Google of misleading its users into believing that their online activities were private while using the Incognito mode. However, the legal team for the class of injured plaintiffs alleged their investigations revealed Google’s advertising technologies and various other techniques continued to document details of users’ site visits and activities, despite the supposed privacy offered by the mode.

The lawsuit claims that Google intentionally created an “unaccountable trove of information” despite its representations that incognito mode provided untracked internet browsing. Attorneys for the class of plaintiffs sought an award of damages that would amount to at least $5 billion, based on the massive scale of the alleged invasion of privacy and misrepresentations to consumers.

Even as legal challenges of the type just resolved continue to be filed as private claims around the nation, there is still no comprehensive federal law governing how tech companies are permitted to collect, manage, or disseminate the personal data usage of their customers.

As the settlement was announced, Google continued to defiantly deny any wrongdoing. Meanwhile, Google agreed to a $700 million settlement concerning its app store management practices in a separate but related case.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, overseeing the case, put a scheduled trial on hold after the announcement of the preliminary settlement. The full terms of the settlement have not yet been disclosed, but the agreement is expected to be presented for final court approval by February 24.

Although it resolves this specific case, last week’s announced settlement does not mark the end of Google’s legal challenges. In addition to facing a ruling later this year in the Justice Department’s landmark antitrust case of its online search business, the company is also awaiting hearings on potential remedies in a case where a federal jury found Google maintained an illegal monopoly through its Android app store.