Google Faces App Tracking Lawsuit

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Lawsuit alleges Google continues tracking user activity on mobile apps, even if tracking is turned off in Google account settings

Alphabet’s Google division is facing another legal battle after a lawsuit was filed it, alleging it tracks user activity on mobile apps.

According to Reuters, the lawsuit is seeking class action status, and it alleges Google records what people are doing on hundreds of thousands of mobile apps, even when they follow the company’s recommended settings for stopping such monitoring.

This is the second such lawsuit in as many months. In June Google was hit with a $5 billion class action lawsuit that alleged the search giant illegally invaded the privacy of millions of users by pervasively tracking their internet use when the Chrome browser is set in “private” (Incognito) mode.

mobile apps

App tracking

But this lawsuit does not involve browsers, but rather Google is alleged to track user activity via app usage.

The lawsuit was reportedly filed by the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner on behalf a handful of individual consumers.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the filing, Reuters reported.

The lawsuit was filed in a US district court in San Jose, and according to Reuters it accuses Google of violating federal wiretap law and California privacy law by logging what users are looking at in news, ride-hailing and other types of apps, despite them having turned off “Web & App Activity” tracking in their Google account settings.

It seems that the lawsuit alleges the data collection takes place via Google’s Firebase, a set of software popular among app makers for storing data, delivering notifications and ads, and tracking glitches and clicks. Reuters says that Firebase typically operates inside apps invisibly to consumers.

“Even when consumers follow Google’s own instructions and turn off ‘Web & App Activity’ tracking on their ‘Privacy Controls,’ Google nevertheless continues to intercept consumers’ app usage and app browsing communications and personal information,” the lawsuit reportedly contends.

Google uses some Firebase data to improve its products and personalise ads and other content for consumers, according to the lawsuit.

Other lawsuits

In February this year, Google was also sued by the US state of New Mexico, which accused the search engine giant of using its educational products to illegally gather data on children and families.

Google said the US state’s claims were “factually wrong”.

In 2019 Google paid $170 million (£130m) to the Federal Trade Commission to settle allegations it illegally collected children’s personal data on YouTube.

Privacy it seems therefore remains an ongoing concern, even during the Coronavirus pandemic.

In April the Federal Appeals Court approved a proposed class action by Facebook users over alleged tracking of their internet activity, even after logging out

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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