A handful of consumers filed a lawsuit in a U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging that Google tracked them even after they opted out. The class action data privacy lawsuit claims that Google continues to record user activity on hundreds of thousands of mobile apps despite the users applying the recommended settings for stopping such activity. Boies Schiller Flexner law firm filed the complaint on behalf of the consumers affected by the alleged covert app tracking by Google. The law firm included Google’s competitors, such as Facebook and Oracle, in the suit.
In June, the same law firm filed a $5 billion claim against Google for tracking users on the Chrome web browser, despite the users activating what Google calls Incognito mode.
Claims made by the app tracking privacy lawsuit
The app tracking privacy lawsuit accuses Google of violating federal wiretap law and California privacy law by recording users’ activity while looking at various apps such as news and ride-hailing apps. This activity allegedly takes place despite the users having turned off “Web & App Activity” tracking on their Google account privacy settings.
The privacy lawsuit says that Google conducts illegal data collection activity through its Firebase database software, which is popular with app makers. Google uses the software for storing data, delivering notifications and ads, and tracking glitches and clicks.
However, Google uses some Firebase data to improve its products and personalize content and ads in violation of users’ privacy rights. The app tracking process takes place silently without app developers’ or users’ knowledge.
Even when consumers follow Google’s official instructions and turn off app tracking using the account’s privacy controls, Google nevertheless continues to intercept consumers’ app usage and app browsing communications and personal information, the lawsuit claims.
The plaintiffs, Anibal Rodriguez and Julieanna Muniz said their detailed browsing history data was collected and monetized by Google without their consent.
Including Google’s competitors in the privacy lawsuit is likely to have little effect on the outcome considering most tech companies are complicit the violation of users’ privacy rights. For example, Facebook has, in the past, failed to prevent illegal access to users’ data leading to misuse of such information by third parties.
Implications of the case
The outcome of the case may also affect app developers who promised to safeguard their customers’ privacy without realizing that their apps were leaking information to Google through covert app tracking mechanisms.
The app tracking privacy lawsuit is a serious allegation because it has the potential to affect more users who use apps developed using the Firebase SDK. Consequently, the current privacy lawsuit could be the first of many more claims to come in the future.
The privacy lawsuit will also undermine the public trust of the company, which has been trying for decades to allay the fears of illegal tracking, as most people have suspected.
The Firebase database used by Google in the app tracking activity is also at the center of an investigation by U.S. antitrust investigators for stifling competition, thus making the software unavoidable for many app developers. Firebase also leaked sensitive information belonging to users of more than 4,000 Android applications using the database.