Google Faces Lawsuit For Tracking Users In Privacy Mode

Google is being sued in a US class action which accuses the search company of invading the privacy of millions of users by pervasively tracking their Internet use through browsers set in “private” mode.

According to the complaint filed in the federal court in California, Google gathers data through Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager and other applications and website plug-ins, including smartphone apps, regardless of whether users click on Google-supported ads. 

Google uses this data to learn about private browsing habits of Chrome users, ranging from seemingly innocuous data that can be used for ad-targeting, such as information about hobbies, interests and favorite foods, to the “most intimate and potentially embarrassing things” that people may search for online, according to the complaint.

Google “cannot continue to engage in the covert and unauthorised data collection from virtually every American with a computer or phone,” the complaint said.

The technology problem at the root of the report is a feature called incognito mode in the Chrome browser, which ironically is one that 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 marketing or ad-targeting purposes.
However, the feature has long had a problem in that even when using their mode, people’s activity has still been detectable by websites “for years” due to a FileSystem API implementation, Google Chrome developer Paul Irish has tweeted.

Though Google said it implemented the FileSystem API in a different way in Chrome 76, released last year, the problem persists even in the latest version of Chrome 83, which was released recently, according to a report in ZDNet.

It remains possible to detect incognito mode in Chrome, as well as other Chromium-based browsers, such as Edge, Opera, Vivaldi, and Brave, which share the core of Chrome’s codebase. The complaint claims that Google has yet to set a timeframe to fix the issue.

Search-engine rival DuckDuckGo used news of the class-action suit as an opportunity to laud its own technology, which it offers as an alternative to Google search as a way to allow people to search and use the web privately.

Google Developers:          Reuters:         ZDNet:       Threatpost:     

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