Google hit with $5 billion lawsuit for allegedly spying on Chrome users

A screenshot of the opening page of Chrome's Incognito Mode.
(Image credit: Sam Kresslein/Shutterstock)

Google has been hit with a $5 billion class-action lawsuit over alleged tracking of people using the company's Chrome browser in incognito mode, which is supposed to protect your privacy.

The civil complaint, filed yesterday (June 2) in the San Jose branch of the U.S. District Court of Northern California, alleges that Google monitors user behavior through Google Analytics, widely used by websites, through websites ads run by Google and through smartphone apps, even if incognito mode is activated in Chrome.

The complaint, filed on behalf of plaintiffs Chasom Brown, Maria Nguyen and William Byatt, argues that Google "cannot continue to engage in the covert and unauthorized data collection from virtually every American with a computer or phone," Reuters reported. 

The lawsuit seeks $5,000 for every potential affected user, who apparently number 1 million. The plaintiffs argue that Google is violating California privacy laws and federal wiretapping laws.

The New York Times said the filing argues that Google has been willfully deceiving customers who use incognito mode, but that may be a stretch. 

The screen you see when you open an incognito tab clearly states that "Your activity might still be visible to websites you visit." However, it also states that Chrome "won't save ... cookies and site data." 

Google spokesman Jose Castaneda told Reuters that "as we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity."

But the plaintiffs are being represented by powerhouse law firm Boies Schiller & Flexner, founded by politically influential attorney David Boies, indicating that the firm thinks the plaintiffs have a solid case. 

Boies Schiller has taken on Microsoft and California's gay-marriage ban, and also defended disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein and the allegedly fraudulent blood-testing company Theranos.

The case name is Brown et al v Google LLC et al., case number 20-03664 in the U.S. District Court of Northern California, and Bloomberg Law has posted a copy of the filing here.

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Paul Wagenseil

Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. He has also been a dishwasher, fry cook, long-haul driver, code monkey and video editor. He's been rooting around in the information-security space for more than 15 years at, SecurityNewsDaily, TechNewsDaily and Tom's Guide, has presented talks at the ShmooCon, DerbyCon and BSides Las Vegas hacker conferences, shown up in random TV news spots and even moderated a panel discussion at the CEDIA home-technology conference. You can follow his rants on Twitter at @snd_wagenseil.