A California federal judge has ordered that plaintiffs who accused Alphabet Inc's Google of illegally tracking their internet activity while in "Incognito" browsing mode can confront Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai for up to two hours.
This lawsuit was filed in June last year that seeks at least $5 billion. According to the reports, the users accused the tech giant of illegally compromising their privacy by tracking their internet activity even at a time when the Google Chrome browser was set in “private” mode. As per a court filing that took place on 27 December, the plaintiffs claim that Pichai has "unique, personal knowledge" of issues connected to the Chrome browser and privacy concerns.
Meanwhile, according to a report by Reuters, Google spokesman José Castaeda said: “While we strongly dispute the claims, in this case, we have cooperated with plaintiffs' countless requests... We will continue to vigorously defend ourselves."
As per a September report, Pichai was warned in 2019 that referring to the company's Incognito browsing mode as "private" was problematic, but it stayed the course as the CEO did not want the function "under the spotlight."
In recent years, amid increased public worries about online surveillance, the Alphabet unit's privacy revelations have drawn regulatory and judicial scrutiny. While in June 2020, users filed the lawsuit accusing the company of illegally tracking their activities, according to Google, which is opposing the lawsuit, Incognito only prevents data from being saved on a user's device.
In September, while citing Google documents, attorneys said that Pichai "was informed in 2019 as part of a project driven by Google Chief Marketing Officer Lorraine Twohill that Incognito should not be referred to as 'private' because that ran 'the risk of exacerbating known misconceptions about protections Incognito mode provides'."
An early court filing said: "As part of those discussions, Pichai decided that he 'didn't want to put incognito under the spotlight' and Google continued without addressing those known issues."
However, Castañeda stated at that time that teams "routinely discuss ways to improve the privacy controls built into our services".
While attorneys for the users said they "anticipate seeking to depose" Pichai and Twohill, Google's lawyers said that they will fight any such attempts.
In August, plaintiffs deposed Google vice president Brian Rakowski who was described in the filing as "the 'father' of Incognito mode". According to the plaintiffs' write-up, he testified that even though Google claims Incognito allows users to browse “privately”, what they assume “may not match” the reality.
At the time, the lawyers representing Google rejected the summary, while stating that Rakowski also said terms like "private," "anonymous," and "invisible" in the right context “can be super helpful” in understanding Incognito.
However, on 27 December, the United States Magistrate Judge Susan van Keulen in California’s San Jose, said that “a few documents establish that specific relevant information was communicated to, and possibly from, Pichai," and so she backed a request from the plaintiffs' lawyers to interrogate him.
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