‘Incognito’: Google settles giant lawsuit


Google has pledged to settle a multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuit over its incognito or private mode.

The huge claim of $5 billion (about R94 billion) in damages was already filed in 2020 in the US state of California by a group of users who argued that the search giant tracked their data while they were browsing the Internet in incognito mode .

The plaintiffs argued that the incognito mode on Google’s Chrome browser – which is supposed to protect users’ privacy – gives users a false sense that what they browse online is not being tracked by Google.

This while internal Google emails, which have come to light as a result of the lawsuit, show that users using incognito mode are still being tracked by the large and powerful search and ad sampler for measuring web traffic and the sale of advertising.

The plaintiffs’ respective legal teams initially sought at least $5,000 in damages for each user they say was tracked by the firm’s Google Analytics or Ad Manager services, even when they were in private browsing mode and not at their Google account was not logged in.

It would have amounted to at least $5 billion – although the settlement amount is unlikely to reach that figure and no amount was given for the preliminary settlement between the parties.

The plaintiffs argued, among other things, that Google’s practices infringe on users’ privacy by “deliberately” misleading them with the incognito option and that Google and its employees were “given the power to gather intimate details about individuals’ lives, interests and Internet use to find out”.

It was also claimed that “millions of individuals” were likely to be affected.

However, a judge has now confirmed in court documents that Google’s lawyers have reached a preliminary agreement to settle the class action. The exact settlement amount is not known to the media.

The settlement comes just weeks after Google’s request to have the case decided by a judge was denied. A jury trial was expected to begin next year.

A formal settlement is expected for court approval by February 24 this year.

Class-action lawsuits have become one of the main ways for big tech companies to take on data privacy issues in the United States, as the country lacks a comprehensive law on the handling of personal data.

In August last year, Google paid $23 million to settle a protracted case regarding giving access to user search data to third parties.

Facebook’s parent company Meta settled a similar case in 2022 and agreed to pay $725 million for handling user data.