Google Settles $5bn Web Tracking Lawsuit

Safari tracking Google Apple privacy © Villiers Steyn Shutterstock

Settlement not disclosed after Google ends web tracking lawsuit with Chrome browser in “private” or “incognito” mode

Alphabet’s Google division has rid itself of another lawsuit, after agreeing an undisclosed settlement over claims it tracked the Internet use of Chrome users, who thought they were browsing privately.

Reuters reported that US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland, California, had put a scheduled 5 February 2024 trial in the proposed class action on hold on Thursday, after lawyers for both Google and consumers said they had reached a preliminary settlement.

It was back in June 2020 when Google was accused of a major privacy violation of millions of users, by allegedly tracking their internet use through Chrome browsers set in “private” or “incognito” mode. The lawsuit had sought at least $5 billion.

Tracking lawsuit

This was not the first time that Google had been confronted over these types of allegations. In 2019 Google paid $170 million to the Federal Trade Commission to settle allegations it illegally collected children’s personal data on YouTube.

However the June 2020 lawsuit sought at least $5 billion, and alleged that Google surreptitiously collected information about what people view online and where they browse, despite them using what Google calls ‘Incognito’ mode.

The lawsuit alleged that Google gathered 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.

The complaint said this helped Google learn about users’ friends, hobbies, favourite foods, shopping habits, and even the “most intimate and potentially embarrassing things” they search for online.

The plaintiffs had argued that Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai had “unique, personal knowledge” of issues relating to the Chrome browser and privacy concerns.

In December 2021 a California federal judge ruled that Pichai could be questioned in the lawsuit, after Google had argued that the plaintiffs requests were “unwarranted and overreaching.”

Then in August 2023, Judge Rogers also rejected Google’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit.

Settlement agreement

Now Reuters has reported that both sides has reached an undisclosed settlement for the $5bn lawsuit.

The lawyers reportedly said they have agreed to a binding term sheet through mediation, and expected to present a formal settlement for court approval by 24 February 2024.

Neither Google nor lawyers for the plaintiff consumers immediately responded to requests for comment, Reuters reported.