Google could face a fine of up to $5 billion from a lawsuit that alleges the firm collects user data when Chrome’s ‘incognito mode’ is activated.
The tech giant failed to win a dismissal for the lawsuit that claims it violates wiretapping and privacy laws by not informing users their data is being tracked.
In her ruling, US District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, wrote: “The court concludes that Google did not notify users that Google engages in the alleged data collection while the user is in private browsing mode.”
Google claims that incognito mode “won’t save your browsing history, cookies and site data, or information entered in forms”. However, it makes no explicit mention of tracking a user’s movements through pages.
The lawsuit was filed in early June last year and seeks compensation from Google and its parent company, Alphabet, according to Reuters. The suit alleges that Google secretly collects data through mobile apps, plug-ins, and services such as Google Analytics and Google Ad Manager.
In a statement at the time, Google said that it “strongly” disputed the claims and that it would defend itself “vigorously” against them.
“Incognito mode in Chrome gives you the choice to browse the internet without your activity being saved to your browser or device,” Google said in a statement.
“As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity during your session,” the firm added.
The ruling follows previous concerns over the power that large tech companies like Google and Facebook have over users and their data, as well as its use to carry out acts like pushing ads or gaining advantages over competitors.
In July last year, Google was accused by Australia’s competition regulator of using data collected in a misleading way to target users for advertising purposes.
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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said at the time that the company “misled” Australian consumers about the use of their personal information, including internet activity, echoing last weeks filing.
Social media firms, too, have been accused in the past of misusing user data. Twitter was caught last year using similar tactics to Google to misuse security data to target advertising.
Twitter faced a fine of up to $250 million (£187 million) by the US Federal Trade Commission after admitting that it used customer phone numbers and email addresses to target advertising.
Google has also been previously accused of domination of the search engine market, with several online service firms calling for an investigation into Google gaining “unjustified advantages” in November last year.