New Google Lawsuit Alleges The Company Has Been Monitoring our App and Web Activity Without Consent

Published on July 15, 2020

Just last month, Google fought to dispute Boise Schiller Flexner’s claim that accused the company of defying the privacy rights of Chrome’s Incognito mode and collecting data from users without permission. The damages mounted to around $5 billion. Now, Google’s facing yet another lawsuit from the same firm.

According to Boise Schiller Flexner, multinational conglomerate and parent company to Google, Alphabet Inc. has been reportedly tracking and recording people’s app and web activity via mobile apps without consent; and not just a few apps, hundreds of thousands of them. 

Data privacy lawsuit

According to the lawsuit filed against Google on Tuesday, the company has allegedly been tracking the data of users who are intentionally opting out of web and app activity monitoring. The U.S. district court in San Jose, CA alleges that Google has come in direct violation of California’s privacy law and the federal wiretap law by illegally recording data from users’ apps, even when their activity tracking setting in their Google accounts is turned off. Though this isn’t the first time Google’s been found guilty of illegally wiretapping consumers.

The lawsuit served on Tuesday announced that Google’s Firebase– a software embedded within apps, invisible to consumers, and widely used by app creators for pushing out notifications and ads, collecting data, and tracking clicks– is where this data is stored. 

The lawsuit states, “Even when consumers follow Google’s own instructions and turn off ‘Web & App Activity’ tracking on their ‘Privacy Controls.’ Google nevertheless continues to intercept consumers’ app usage and app browsing communications and personal information.”

Google’s Firebase and why it’s under investigation

According to Business Insider, Google’s Firebase, where this data is allegedly stored, is mainly used to “improve its products, personalize ads and other content for consumers.” Another news source, Reuters, relayed back in March that U.S. antitrust probe would lead an investigation into Google’s Firebase to determine whether or not they’ve lawfully or unlawfully used this kind of software to their advantage. There’s suspicion that Google may have suppressed competition, via the use of their Firebase, in a manner that violates the law.

According to a report by Comparitech published back in May of 2020, in a major gaffe by Google, its Firebase leaked Android users’ data; meaning that outside parties could gain access to users’ personal data via thousands of apps. The report estimates that this slip up has caused an estimated 24,000 Android apps to have leaked user data. 

“Firebase provides a number of features that help our developers configure their deployments securely. We provide notifications to developers about potential misconfigurations in their deployments and offer recommendations for correcting them. We are reaching out to affected developers to help them address these issues.”

-A Google Spokesperson in a statement to Comparitech

“Google is always watching,” the current complaint states, “even when it promises to look away.”

Kristen Sallaberry is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in New York, she covers the realm of consumer tech and how these ever-progressing gadgets affect our lives. A creative writer and music-head, she also writes for online music publication, Sound of Boston, where she reviews and premieres new music, and co-writes a hip-hop focused column.

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