Google Hit With $5 Billion Class Action Lawsuit

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Google was hit with a $5 billion class-action lawsuit over claims that it has been collecting people's browsing information without their knowledge even when using the incognito browsing mode that's meant to keep their online activities private. The lawsuit, filed in the federal court in San Jose, California, claims that Google compiles user data through Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager and other applications regardless of whether users click on Google-supported ads according to a report in Reuters.

According to the complaint, Google uses the data to learn about private browsing habits of Chrome users, harmless browsing to the “most intimate and potentially embarrassing things” that people may search for online. The complaint stated that Google cannot continue to engage in the covert and unauthorized data collection from virtually every American with a computer or phone.

The problem at the root of the report is a feature called incognito mode in the Chrome browser, which is supposed to protect people when surfing the internet. Chrome users can turn on incognito mode to protect their browsing history, sessions and cookies from websites that want to use this information for ad-targeting purposes. The problem is that even when using their mode, people’s activity has still been detectable by websites “for years” due to a FileSystem API implementation, according to a tweet by Google Chrome developer Paul Irish.

Even though Google said it implemented the FileSystem API in a different way in Chrome 76, the problem persists even in the latest version of Chrome 83, which was released last month. It is still possible to detect incognito mode in Chrome, as well as other Chromium-based browsers, such as Edge and Opera since they share the core of Chrome's codebase. Google still has not set a timeframe to fix the issue in Chrome's codebase.

Ironically, earlier this year, Google researchers said they identified a number of security flaws in Safari's private-browsing feature, called Intelligent Tracking Protection, that allow people's browsing behavior to be tracked by third parties. Apple quickly responded by saying it had already fixed the flaws in an update to Webkit technology in Safari.