Alphabet’s Google has reached a preliminary settlement in a class-action lawsuit that accused the tech giant of secretly tracking the internet activity of users who believed they were browsing privately in incognito mode. U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland, California, has postponed the trial scheduled for Feb. 5, 2024, following the announcement of the settlement by lawyers for both Google and the plaintiffs. While the lawsuit initially sought at least $5 billion, the terms of the settlement remain undisclosed.

The lawsuit alleged that Google’s analytics, cookies, and apps could track users’ activity even when they used “Incognito” mode in Chrome or similar “private” browsing modes in other browsers. The plaintiffs argued that this practice turned Google into an “unaccountable trove of information,” allowing the company to gather details about users’ friends, hobbies, personal preferences, and potentially sensitive online searches.

In August, Judge Rogers rejected Google’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit, expressing uncertainty about whether Google had legally committed to not collecting user data during private browsing. She cited ambiguities in the company’s privacy policy and statements suggesting limitations on data collection. Filed in 2020, the lawsuit represented “millions” of Google users since June 1, 2016, and sought at least $5,000 in damages per user for alleged violations of federal wiretapping and California privacy laws.

The lawyers disclosed that they have agreed on a binding term sheet through mediation and expect to present a formal settlement for court approval by Feb. 24, 2024. The case is Brown et al v Google LLC et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 20-03664.

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