With various news reports of several media platforms sharing users’ data with external parties, people are now more wary of their privacy. Some are now utilising VPNs or installing alternate applications that offer heightened privacy like Signal and DuckDuckGo. For some, browsing in incognito or private mode is enough – or so they thought.
Citing issues about the privacy of their incognito browsing mode, US District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, ruled that Google has to face a USD $5 billion lawsuit, according to a report. This is due to a complaint filed against the media giant, claiming that the company carries on a “pervasive data tracking business” even in the supposed “incognito” mode.
“Google knows who your friends are, what your hobbies are, what you like to eat, what movies you watch, where and when you like to shop, what your favourite vacation destinations are, what your favourite colour is”, the complaint said.
In addition, the complaint mentioned that Google knows ‘even the most intimate and potentially embarrassing things you browse on the Internet’ regardless of whether you follow Google’s advice to keep your activities private using their incognito mode.
Google, however, said that the browser clearly states each time you open a new incognito tab that websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity during your session. “We strongly dispute these claims, and we will defend ourselves vigorously against them”, Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said in the report.
With that, Google tried to dismiss the lawsuit against them but the US Court “concludes that Google did not notify users that Google engages in the alleged data collection while the user is in private browsing mode”.
The search giant emphasised that ‘incognito’ does not mean ‘invisible’ and that the user’s activity during that session may be visible to websites they visit and any third-party analytics or ads services the visited websites use.
On their help page, Google even lists what happens when you browse privately:
It is unclear whether the complaint just misinterpreted the terms of the incognito browsing mode or Google really tracks their users even in the said private space. However, one thing is for sure: browsing in incognito mode is not advisable for users seeking privacy and they should use VPNs or other more privacy-focused browsers instead.