Google is once again being accused of tracking users against their explicit will, with a California lawsuit alleging that Google tracks user activity through hundreds of thousands of apps, even after people opt-out of sharing information by turning off turn off Web & App Activity tracking in their Google account settings.
At issue is Google’s app analytic tool, Firebase, used by hundreds of thousands of apps.
Law firm Boies Schiller Flexner has filed a suit on behalf of several individuals in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, claiming Google violates wiretapping and privacy laws by tracking what users look at in various apps.
According to the suit, “Through Firebase SDK, Google can ‘[l]og the user’s interactions with the app, including viewing content, creating new content, or sharing content.’… In other words, Google aggressively tracks what consumers browse, see, create, and share online when using the apps installed on their mobile devices.”
The complaint states:
Google in fact intercepts, tracks, collects and sells consumer mobile app browsing history and activity data regardless of what safeguards or “privacy settings” consumers undertake to protect their privacy. 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. Indeed, even if consumers completely avoid using Google-branded apps and devices, Google still tracks and compiles their communications by covertly integrating Google’s tracking software into the products of other companies. Google’s illegal practices extend to hundreds of thousands of smartphone apps, such as apps for The New York Times, Lyft, Alibaba, The Economist and others.
The company is seeking class-action status for their case, and have launched a similar complaint in June against Google when they accused Google of tracking people’s internet use, even when their browsers were set to incognito mode.
It seems at question is whether user’s agreement with the app maker to collect analytics data superseded the separate but direct request to Google to stop tracking them.
Google has, of course, disputed the claims and said it would defend itself against them. It is notable that Boies Schiller Flexner has previous presented Facebook and Oracle.
The full complaint can be seen here.
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