“Google is always watching,” Class Action Complaint Says

A class of individuals, whose mobile app usage was tracked by Google despite turning off “Web & App Activity” tracking, filed a complaint on Tuesday in the Northern District of California against Google and its parent company Alphabet Inc. for the unlawful interception and surreptitious collection of their communications and data.

The complaint explained that “Google promises user control and privacy. In reality, Google is a voyeur extraordinaire. Google is always watching.  Even when it promises to look away, Google is watching. Every click, every website, every app—our entire virtual lives. Intercepted. Tracked. Logged. Compiled. Packaged.  Sold for profit.” Specifically, the plaintiffs are suing Google for its “illegal interception of consumers’ private activity on consumer mobile applications”; Google allegedly uses this amassed data to sell for consumer advertising. As a result, the plaintiffs claimed that Google financially benefits from user data.

Furthermore, while Google asserted in its Privacy Policy and other places that users are “in control of what information [they] share with Google,” the plaintiffs alleged that this is not true. Users may have “the option to ‘control’ what app browsing and activity data Google collects by adjusting their privacy settings,” however, the plaintiffs proffered that Google “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.” As a result, Google allegedly collected user data, despite some users believing that they took measures to safeguard their data. The plaintiffs stated that in addition to tracking users on Google-branded apps and devices, Google integrated its tracking software through its Firebase SDK (software development kits) into other companies’ products. 

Google also allegedly covertly collected private consumer data through Google Analytics and it collected consumer mobile app communications. Googles supposedly misrepresented its data privacy, by claiming that users had control over their data, when they did not have this control. For instance, Google allegedly continues to intercept user communication and data even when a user has attempted to safeguard their data by turning off “Web & App Activity.” Again, the plaintiffs claimed that this information is collected for Google’s benefit by selling to third-parties for advertising and other purposes; this is valuable information for third-parties and advertisers.

The plaintiffs argued that consumers reasonably expect that their communications and data will not be intercepted or surreptitiously collected, as protected by law. Google is accused of Federal Wiretap Act violations, California Invasion of Privacy Act violations, invasion of privacy and violating California’s Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act for the aforementioned alleged conduct. These “[f]ederal and California privacy laws prohibit unauthorized interception, access, and use of the contents in electronic communications.” 

The plaintiffs have sought to certify the suit as a class action; an award for damages; and order for Google to disgorge wrongfully obtained revenue and profits; to permanently restrain defendants from further violations; an award for costs and fees; and other relief as determined by the court.

The plaintiffs are represented by Boies Schiller Flexner LLP.