In the wake of privacy concerns trailing Google’s parent company, Alphabet, a Federal Judge in California has ruled that petitioners can question the CEO of the company, Sundar Pichai for at least two hours over the allegation that the company was illegally tracking internet use with the ‘secret browsing mode’, in what some analysts have termed a privacy breach.
It would be recalled that in a proceeding filed in June 2020, Google was accused of violating their privacy vow by tracking internet usage when the Google Chrome is set to ‘private mode’
A court filing on Monday revealed that the petitioners accused Pichai of having ‘unique personal knowledge’ of issues related to Chrome browsers and privacy concerns, with U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan van Keulen in San Jose, California, saying in her order on Monday that, “a few documents establish that specific relevant information was communicated to, and possibly from, Pichai,” and therefore supported a request from the plaintiffs’ lawyers to question him.
Google while planning on defending the lawsuit, had affirmed that it ensure that the Incognito mode doesn’t allow data from being saved to a user’s device.
Google’s Policy Communications Manager, Jose Castaneda while denying wrongdoing from the Alphabet owned company said:
“In this case, we strongly disagree with this claim, but we have cooperated with plaintiffs’ countless demands … we will continue to actively defend ourselves”.
CEO Pichai had in 2019 warned that it would be very tricky to intimate the public with the explanation that the company’s secret browsing mode is “private,” with a court filing in September saying the feature was “in the limelight.”
Alphabet’s privacy unit disclosures had prompted stringent regulatory and legal scrutiny from authorities and users in recent years, with increasing public concern about online surveillance coming to the fore.
Consumer Protection Regulatory agency, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had notified the public that it would be considering drafting new rules for U.S businesses, in a way that strongly regulate the way data and algorithms can be used, a move seen as a veiled attempt to make tech companies run by its set standards.
The Chairman of the agency, Lina Khan in a letter to Congressman, Senator Richard Blumenthal explained that the new move could lead to “market-wide requirements” targeting “harms that can result from commercial surveillance and other data practices”.
It remains to be seen when the questioning will begin.