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Google in $5bn lawsuit for tracking in ‘private’ mode

The Google offices in NYC are closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.Image copyright Getty Images

Google has been sued in the US over claims it invades the privacy of users by tracking people even when they are browsing in “private mode”.

The class action wants at least $5bn (£4bn) from Google and owner Alphabet.

Many internet users assume their search history isn’t being tracked when they view in private mode, but Google says this isn’t the case.

The search engine denies this is illegal and says it is upfront about the data it collects in this mode.

The proposed class action likely includes “millions” of Google users who since 1 June 2016 browsed the internet in private mode according to law firm Boies Schiller Flexner who filed the claim on Tuesday in federal court in San Jose, California.

Incognito mode within Google’s Chrome browser gives users the choice to search the internet without their activity being saved to the browser or device. But the websites visited can use tools such as Google Analytics to track usage.

“As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity,” said Google spokesman Jose Castaneda.

“We strongly dispute these claims and we will defend ourselves vigorously against them,” Mr Castaneda added.

The search engine says the collection of search history, even in private viewing mode, helps site owners “better evaluate the performance of their content, products, marketing and more.”

One option is for visitors to install Google Analytics browser opt-out extension to disable measurement by Google Analytics, it says.