In a significant development, Google has reached a preliminary settlement in a long-standing class action lawsuit that accused the tech giant of misleading consumers regarding their privacy while using the Incognito mode in its Chrome web browser. The resolution comes on the heels of a court ruling that allowed the case to proceed to trial.
Settlement in the Making
Google is currently finalizing a “final and definitive settlement” with the plaintiffs after engaging in a legal battle in federal court for nearly four years. A joint filing submitted to Northern District of California Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers revealed that the agreement, resulting from mediation and a binding term sheet, is expected to be presented to the judge within the next 60 days.
Court Ruling Paves the Way
The settlement follows a recent federal court ruling that rejected Google’s request to exclude substantial evidence related to classwide damages, unjust enrichment, and expert testimony on methodology standards for statutory damages. The court also denied Google’s request to exclude evidence related to other litigations and regulations not directly at issue in this case. In August, the judge had already denied Google’s request for a summary judgment.
Allegations of Privacy Violations
The class action, filed in 2020, alleges damages of “at least” $5 billion, asserting that Google unlawfully violated the privacy of millions by employing cookies, analytics, and tools to track internet browsing activity, even when users activated the Incognito mode in its widely used Chrome web browser.
While Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment, it previously stated in August, “We strongly dispute these claims and we will defend ourselves vigorously against them.” The tech giant argued that Incognito mode provides users with the choice to browse the internet without saving activity to the browser or device.
Triable Issues and Privacy Concerns
The court, in August, found that a “triable issue exists” regarding whether Google’s statements about Incognito mode created an enforceable promise not to collect users’ data during private browsing. The lawsuit alleges that Google’s tracking practices were surreptitious, rendering Incognito mode ineffective in protecting user privacy.
As this legal saga continues, it raises questions about the tech industry’s responsibility to transparently communicate privacy features to users and the potential implications for Google’s widely used Chrome web browser.
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