You know when you open an incognito tab to protect your browsing? It might not be that anonymous. Google employees themselves have their reservations about this mode, and the feature could result in a loss of billions of dollars for the company thanks to a lawsuit brought by several users.
The story began, on International Data Privacy Day (28/01) last year, when Google’s chief marketing officer, Lorraine Twohill, wrote an email to Alphabet Inc.’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, about how to earn users trust, according to recent court documents seen by Bloomberg:
“Make incognito mode truly private. We are limited in how strongly we can market incognito mode, because it’s not really private,” wrote Lorraine.
Lorraine’s email and a transcript of the employees’ chat are part of a collection of documents presented for the creation of a class action that could cause great damage to the company. There are also other emails, presentations and testimonials from employees.
Next Tuesday (18), a judge will hit the gavel. Users have filed a multi-billion dollar class action lawsuit against Google for allegedly tracking data while they were using incognito mode. It is important to explain that the action was created before the email was sent. These users claim that tracking amounts to privacy violations.
The hearing will be in Oakland, California (USA), and is considered critical. US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers will rule on whether millions of Incognito users can be pooled together to seek statutory damages ranging from $100 to $1,000 per violation.
The Incognito Litigation is among several cases of consumers and states accusing Google of privacy violations. Google recently agreed to pay $85 million to settle Arizona’s allegations that it illegally collects user data for targeted advertising.
On the part of Google, the company denies wrongdoing. “Privacy controls have been built into our services and we encourage our teams to constantly discuss or consider ideas for improving them,” spokesperson Jose Castaneda said in an email to Bloomberg.
In court documents in that lawsuit, the company argues that while it is common knowledge, incognito mode does not make browsing invisible and that users have given consent for Google to track their data.
“Incognito mode offers users a private browsing experience, and we’ve made it clear how it works and what it does, while the plaintiffs in this case purposely mischaracterized our statements,” Castaneda said in the email.
In short, the incognito tab is a browsing mode in which the history of websites is not recorded and cookies are deleted after the session. The resource was created in 2008 with the aim of making life easier for people who share a computer. That way, people couldn’t snoop on what the other person accessed.
Court documents show that, well before the search engine giant was taken to court, company employees were frustrated that the anonymous tab didn’t live up to its name.
“We need to stop calling it anonymously and stop using a spy icon,” a company engineer said in a chat among Google Chrome engineers in 2018, after sharing research that showed users misunderstood features. of private browsing modes.
What is done with the data?
So far, only Google knows what is done with the data collected from searches in incognito mode.
Serge Egelman, research director of the Usable Security and Privacy Group at the University of California at Berkeley’s International Computer says that data about where incognito users go online, what they do on websites and what ads they see can be used