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Suit Claims Google’s Tracking Violates Federal Wiretap Law


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OAKLAND, Calif. — Google violated federal wiretap laws when it continued to collect information about what users were doing on the internet without their permission even though they were browsing in so-called private browsing mode, according to a potential class-action lawsuit filed against the internet giant on Tuesday.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, said Google tracked and collected consumer browsing history even if users took steps to maintain their privacy. The suit said Google also violated a California law that requires consent of all parties to read or learn the contents of private communication.

The complaint focuses largely on what the company does to collect and track online activity when users surf the web in private browsing mode. Even when a user opts for private browsing, Google uses other tracking tools it provides to website publishers and advertisers to keep tabs on what websites the user visits, according to the lawsuit.

“Google tracks and collects consumer browsing history and other web activity data no matter what safeguards consumers undertake to protect their data privacy,” said the complaint, which was filed by Mark C. Mao, a partner at the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner.

Google has faced other lawsuits over its data collection, but this one tries to use the Federal Wiretap Act. The statute provides users with the right to sue if their private communications are intercepted. The lawsuit claims that Google intercepts the contents of communication between users and websites by collecting browsing history, specific website addresses and search queries.

“We strongly dispute these claims, and we will defend ourselves vigorously against them,” a Google spokesman, Jose Castaneda, said. “Incognito mode in Chrome gives you the choice to browse the internet without your activity being saved to your browser or device. 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 lawsuit said users had a “reasonable expectation” that their communications would not be intercepted or collected when they were in private browsing mode. It also said Google’s practices “intentionally deceive consumers” into believing that they maintain control of the information shared with the company and encouraging them to surf the web in private browsing if they want to maintain their privacy.

However, Google fails to mention that other tracking tools used by the company may continue to track users by collecting information such as internet protocol addresses as well as browser and device information, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three people with Google accounts: Chasom Brown and Maria Nguyen, both of Los Angeles, and William Byatt, a Florida resident. It seeks compensatory damages.

www.nytimes.com 2020-06-02 23:31:29

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