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Google to settle £3.9bn secret user tracking lawsuit

Written by Wed 3 Jan 2024

Google has agreed to settle a £3.9 billion ($5 billion) lawsuit accusing the company of covertly tracking the Internet activity of millions who thought they were browsing privately.

The Guardian reported US District Judge for the Northern District of California, Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, halted a scheduled trial in the proposed lawsuit after lawyers said they had reached a settlement on 28 December. The trial was originally set to commence in February.

The terms of the settlement were not disclosed. However, lawyers have agreed to a binding term sheet through mediation. This term sheet will outline the key conditions of a proposed agreement or transaction between parties.

A formal settlement is expected to be presented for court approval by 24 February 2024.

The Alleged Google User Tracking 

The plaintiffs said that since June 2016, analytics by Google, cookies, and apps have been tracking the online activity of users.  

The plaintiffs claimed this is even when users have their browser settings in ‘incognito’ mode or other browsers in ‘private’ mode. This allowed Google to learn about users’ hobbies, friends, shopping habits, and potentially embarrassing content they view online. 

Filed in 2020 by firm Boies Schiller Flexner, the lawsuit sought at least £3,960 ($5,000) in damages per user for violations of federal wire-tapping and California privacy laws.

In August 2023, US District Judge Rogers rejected Google’s proposal to dismiss the lawsuit. She said that it was unclear if users had consented to enabling Google to collect data regarding browsing activity. 

District Judge Rogers cited statements and the company’s privacy policy that suggested there were limits on what information the company may collect.

The Google Chrome help page said none of a user’s browsing history, cookies, site data, or information entered in forms are saved onto a device.

“This means that your activity does not appear in your Chrome browser history so that people who also use your device will not see your activity. Websites see you as a new user and will not know who you are, as long as you do not sign in,” said Google.

The BBC reported that Google claimed it has consistently been transparent about the data it collects during users’ private mode browsing, even if some users believed otherwise.

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Written by Wed 3 Jan 2024

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