U.S. Judge Rejects Google’s Bid to Dismiss Privacy Lawsuit, Allowing $5 bn Class Action to Proceed

A U.S. District Judge has dealt a blow to Google’s legal defense, rejecting their attempt to dismiss a high-stakes lawsuit alleging the company invaded the privacy of millions of individuals by covertly tracking their online activities.
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The decision by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers allows the proposed $5 billion class-action lawsuit to move forward, marking a significant development in the ongoing battle over digital privacy rights, Reuters news report said.

The plaintiffs in the case argue that Google’s extensive use of analytics, cookies, and applications enabled the tech giant to monitor users’ online behavior, even when utilizing private browsing modes. Despite employing such modes, Google’s alleged tracking allegedly enabled them to gather a wealth of personal information, ranging from interests and hobbies to shopping habits and potentially embarrassing search queries.

The central point of contention revolves around whether Google adequately obtained users’ consent to collect this data. Judge Gonzalez Rogers asserted that Google had not explicitly informed users of its data collection practices, thereby casting doubt on whether informed consent had been granted. This decision was welcomed by David Boies, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, who hailed it as a crucial step toward safeguarding the privacy rights of millions of Americans.

The court’s decision was informed by various factors, including a Google pilot program that offered users compensation for sharing their browsing histories. Additionally, statements made by Google in its privacy policy were cited as indicating some limits on data collection. Judge Gonzalez Rogers maintained that taken together, these elements raised a legitimate question regarding whether Google had made an enforceable commitment to abstain from collecting data during online users’ private browsing sessions.

Responding to the ruling, Google’s spokesperson, Jose Castaneda, reaffirmed the company’s disagreement with the plaintiffs’ claims and emphasized its commitment to defending itself vigorously. Castaneda highlighted that Google’s “Incognito” mode provided users with the choice to browse the internet without their activities being recorded on their device or browser. He further emphasized that websites might still be capable of collecting information about users’ browsing activities during their sessions.

The lawsuit pertains to Google users from June 1, 2016, onwards and seeks damages of at least $5,000 per user for alleged violations of federal wiretapping laws and California privacy statutes. As the legal battle ensues, the outcome of this high-profile case could have far-reaching implications for the digital privacy landscape and the responsibilities of tech companies regarding user data protection.