On Tuesday (June 2), Google was sued in a proposed class action suit in the US. The lawsuit alleges that the company tracks people even when they are browsing the internet using the “private mode”. The class action suit demands $5 billion from Google’s parent firm Alphabet for violating the Federal Wiretap law and the invasion of privacy Act.
It also claims that Google’s interception of user data is “intentional” and “unlawful”. Jose Castaneda, a Google spokesman, told Reuters that the company will defend itself “vigorously” against the claims. “As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity,” Castaneda was quoted as saying in the report.
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Last month, the company was sued by Arizona’s Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who alleged that Google violated user privacy by tracking the user location even when it had been turned off. On May 28, Brnovich tweeted, “Today we filed a consumer fraud lawsuit against Google for deceptive and unfair practices used to obtain users’ location data, which Google then exploits for its lucrative advertising business.”
What is the lawsuit?
The lawsuit, which has been filed by Chasom Brown, Maria Nguyen and William Byatt individually and on behalf of all those Google subscribers whose internet was tracked from June 1 , 2016 onward, claims that Google tracks and collects consumer browsing history and other web browsing activity data “no matter what” safeguards consumers may use.
It further says that Google accomplished this using means such as Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager and other applications and website plug-ins on mobile devices and websites. “When an internet user visits a webpage or opens an app that uses such services (over 70% of all online publishers use such a service), Google receives detailed, personal information such as the user’s IP address (which may provide geographic information), what the user is viewing, what the user last viewed, and details about the user’s hardware,” the lawsuit claims.
Significantly, it says that Google takes this data regardless of a person clicking on a Google-supported advertisement.
The communications intercepted by Google include “contents” of electronic communications in the form of detailed URL requests, webpage browsing histories and search queries made by plaintiffs, it says. The interception also enables Google to know about who an individual’s friends are, what their hobbies are, what a person may like to eat, watch and shop etc.
“This means that billions of times a day, Google causes computers around the world to report the real-time internet communications of hundreds of millions of people to Google.”
Moreover, the plaintiffs have charged Google with giving users the false impression that they can prevent Google from tracking their browsing history and collecting their personal data online.
What is the Federal Wiretap Act?
The Federal Wiretap Act prohibits the intentional interception of the contents of any wire, oral or electronic communication through the use of a safe device. “Google’s actions in intercepting and tracking user communications while they were browsing the internet using a browser while in “private browsing mode” was intentional. On information and belief, Google is aware that it is intercepting communications in these circumstances and has taken no remedial action,” the lawsuit says.
What is the California Invasion of Privacy Act?
The Act says the following, “The Legislature hereby declares that advances in science and technology have led to the development of new devices and techniques for the purpose of eavesdropping upon private communications and that the invasion of privacy resulting from the continual and increasing use of such devices and techniques has created a serious threat to the free exercise of personal liberties and cannot be tolerated in a free and civilized society”.
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The plaintiffs maintain that Google’s intentional interception of user information violates this law too.
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