Google Sued Over Incognito Mode

John Lister's picture

Google faces a class action lawsuit over claims it "misled users of Chrome's private browsing mode." But suggestions users are in for a $5,000 windfall are premature, to say the least.

That's the minimum amount the lawsuit seeks per affected user, though for starters that assumes not only that the plaintiffs win the case, but that the court agrees to that amount. It also assumes the amount isn't reduced by lawyer fees and that anyone eligible is able to sign up to the case and provide any necessary proof.

The crux of the case, brought in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, is a claim that Google unlawfully collects data about users without their consent or knowledge when they use the "Incognito" mode.

Private Browsing Warning

On the face if it, Google is clear about what it doesn't save during Incognito mode, namely "Your browsing history", "Cookies and site data" and "Information entered in forms." It does warn that website operators, employers, schools and Internet service providers might still be able to track user activity.

However, the lawsuit alleges that Google continues to track user activity while using Incognito mode. This comes from services offered to websites, such as Google Analytics (which provides stats about visitors to a site), Google Ad Manager, and tools such as one that lets users sign into a site using their Google account. The lawsuit says "70 percent of all online publishers use such a service." (Source:

To provide these services, Google does collect information about a user's browsing activities, even when using Incognito Mode. For example, when somebody visits a website, Google can provide details of the last site they were on, which can help site operators see which inbound links are most effective.

A Matter Of Perspective

Google says it will defend the claims vigorously and notes that such data collection is covered by the warning about website operators seeing activity. (Source:

The heart of the case is thus the plaintiff's argument that Google doesn't stress this enough, particularly that it doesn't make clear that it's collecting the data that is then seen by website operators.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you use Incognito Mode? Do you think you have a good understanding of what it does and doesn't do? Do you think the case has any merits?

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stekcapofni's picture

I'm surprised that California is not suing Google for not displaying a warning when entering Incognito Mode that the Google Incognito Mode contains substances known to the State of California to cause cancer and/or birth defects.

Unrecognised's picture

The case will hinge on whether ggl named the mode 'Incognito Mode" or "'Incognito Mode'".
If the latter, the plaintiffs are doomed, as the irony was there to see from the start.

Those terms and conditions we all read in full?; there's sure to be a clause; "You agree that in using 'Incognito Mode' you are aware that 'Incognito Mode' is not actually incognito".

Incognito Mode is not incognito. There's the singular fact.

But will that win the day? Lets try to believe in the might of rightness in the teeth of the moral decay of 'civilisation'.

stekcapofni's picture

Did you mean "Incognito Mode" or "In Cognito Mode"?