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Google settles US$5bn lawsuit over user privacy concerns

Google settles US$5bn lawsuit over user privacy concerns

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Alphabet’s Google has reportedly agreed to settle a class action lawsuit against it that claimed it secretly tracked the internet use of millions while on private browsing modes.

The plaintiffs reportedly sought at least US$5 billion, alleging that the tech giant’s analytics, cookies, and apps enabled the Alphabet unit to track their activity even while on the Chrome browser’s “Incognito” mode and other browsers’ “private” modes.

Don’t miss: Google hit with lawsuit over data used to train its AI products

According to the class action that was first filed in 2020, the plaintiffs stated that Google’s “pervasive data tracking business” has made itself an “unaccountable trove of information” about users’ friends, hobbies, preferences, and even intimate and potentially embarrassing things searched for on the internet.

"Well aware of consumers’ legitimate and reasonable concerns over privacy, Google
assured, and continues to assure, its consumers and users that they, and not Google, are 'in control of what information [they] share with Google.' Google further represents that 'across our services, you can adjust our privacy settings to control what we collect and how your information is used.' Nothing could be further from the truth," said plaintiffs Chasom Brown, Maria Nguyen, and William Byatt in legal documents seen by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE. 

They added that Google tracks and collects consumer browsing history and other web activity data "no matter what safeguards consumers undertake to protect their data privacy". They further alleged that Google accomplishes its "surreptitious tracking" through means that include Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager, and various other application and website plug-ins, such as Google applications on mobile devices and the “Google Sign-In button” for 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. Google takes the data regardless of whether the user actually clicks on a Google-supported advertisement—or even knows of its existence," they said. 

According to Reuters, United States district judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland, California, put a scheduled 5 February 2024 trial in the proposed class action on hold after lawyers for Google and for consumers said that they had reached a preliminary settlement.

While the settlement terms were not disclosed, lawyers reportedly said that they have agreed to a binding term sheet through mediation and expected to present a formal settlement for court approval by 24 February 2024.

Google declined to comment when MARKETING-INTERACTIVE reached out.

This is the latest development in one of Google’s legal battles over data privacy. In July 2023, Google was hit with a lawsuit alleging that it used data from millions of users online without their consent and that it violated copyright laws so that it could train and develop its artificial intelligence (AI) systems.

According to legal documents seen by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, Google allegedly harvested personal and professional information, creative and copywritten works, photographs, and emails to build commercial AI products such as its chatbot, Bard.

The lawsuit also alleged that Google illegally accessed restricted subscription-based websites to take the content of millions without permission and infringed at least 200 million materials explicitly protected by copyright.

According to legal documents, Google later responded to the backlash by inviting the world to engage in a “dialogue” about what data collection and protection efforts should look like in the new era of AI. However, the lawsuit classified this as “too little too late”.

This news came amidst Google’s amped up AI efforts last year, releasing Bard in February 2023 and Gemini, a multimodal AI platform, in December 2023. Gemini, which can generalise, understand, operate across and combine different types of information including text, code, audio, image, and video, promised to make sense of complex written and visual information.

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