Google has been sued for billions of dollars in a proposed class action alleging the adtech company identified and tracked users who adopted its browser's incognito mode to avoid such tracking.
The complaint, filed in Northern California yesterday [PDF], claims that through a combination of means ranging from "Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager, and various other application and website plug-ins", the adtech company has identified individuals' IP addresses, "what the user is viewing, what the user last viewed, and details about the user's hardware" while they were in incognito mode.
"Google takes the data regardless of whether the user actually clicks on a Google-supported advertisement – or even knows of its existence," states the legal claim.
It also accuses Mountain View of trying to make itself a one-stop shop "for any government, private, or criminal actor who wants to undermine individuals' privacy, security, or freedom."
The proposed suit seeks a minimum of $5bn from Google, based on $5,000 in damages per user (with the users said to number in their "millions") said to be affected by the deanonymisation efforts since 1 June 2016.
Jose Castaneda, a Google spokesman, told Reuters the company would defend itself vigorously against the claims. He said: "As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity."
The class action names the plaintiffs as Chasom Brown, Maria Nguyen, and William Byatt, "individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated."
The case will be heard in the US district court for Northern California by Judge Susan van Keulan.
Google has faced, and indeed is currently facing, legal action over similar claims of intentional privacy-busting. The so-called Safari Workaround is the subject of current legal action in the UK. Sir Geoffrey Vos, a senior judge, described the case as seeking "to call Google to account for its allegedly wholesale and deliberate misuse of personal data without consent, undertaken with a view to commercial profit" in a judgment from last year allowing the case to go ahead.
The Safari Workaround itself was a method for Google to plant ad-tracking cookies on the devices of people using Apple's Safari browser. Although Safari was designed to block such cookies, Google found a workaround for that blocking so it could continue to fully monetise those users.
That case, like the one in the US detailed above, continues. ®