Google has settled a US lawsuit, agreeing to pay at least $5 billion to resolve accusations of violating user privacy by tracking them even while in “private mode” browsing. The class action, initiated by law firm Boies Schiller Flexner in 2020, alleged that Google, the primary search engine and parent company Alphabet, had collected information on users’ online activities despite them using “Incognito” mode on Google Chrome or “private mode” on other browsers.
The scheduled trial in California was put on hold by US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers after lawyers informed the court of a preliminary settlement. Earlier, Judge Rogers had rejected Google’s attempt to dismiss the case, stating that she could not accept that users had given consent to the collection of their browsing data by Google.
The terms of the settlement were not disclosed, but a formal settlement is expected to be presented to the court for approval by February 2024. The lawsuit argued that Google had transformed into an “unaccountable trove of information” on user preferences and potentially sensitive details.
Google contended that it had transparently communicated the data it collected, asserting that gathering search history, even in private mode, aided site owners in assessing content, products, and marketing performance.
The Incognito mode in Google Chrome allows users to browse the internet without saving activity to the browser or device, though websites may still use tools like Google Analytics to track usage. This settlement adds to Google’s ongoing legal challenges, including a recent $700 million payment to settle a lawsuit by US states alleging anti-competitive practices in the Play Store on Android devices.
Google also faced a defeat in a court battle against Epic Games, which accused the tech giant of unfairly dominating the app store market.