The great Google antitrust case

Incognito Fedora Wearing Chrome / Photoshopper: Eve Eon

According to Google’s website, the company’s private browsing service “Incognito mode” allows users to browse without their history, data, cookies, or information being collected. It also includes an option to block third-party cookies while in the private browsing mode.

In 2020, a lawsuit was filed between the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and Google LLC. The lawsuit in question: an antitrust case regarding Google’s use of private browsing data from incognito mode. Contrary to the privacy that incognito mode implies, it was revealed that user data had in fact been collected and used by third party websites and tools. For Google, this class-action case was no new occurrence. With a history of various lawsuits, regarding issues of privacy, advertising strategies, and the monopolization of power to eliminate online competition, Google has won, and lost, many a lawsuit.

With the case now nearing an end, Google has agreed to delete billions of data items collected from users while in Incognito mode. It has also agreed to clearly state what the mode implies, as well as its privacy limitations.

While the DOJ requested a sum of $5 billion dollars, Google did not oblige. Instead, the company offered to pay for any damages, as requested by individual incognito mode users.

So what does this mean for students at OIHS and high school students at large? Google referred to the case as “meritless,” yet it might hold more meaning for younger audiences. While most students surveyed at OIHS said that they do not use incognito mode for school related purposes, most were familiar with or had used the browser for more personal reasons. Many teenagers use incognito mode to hide data from family/device sharers, rather than large, data-seeking companies, meaning Google’s browsing service isn’t entirely faulty. For this reason, the general opinion of whether this lawsuit brings distrust among high school students is not fully homogeneous. Posing a different issue for young adults, the case represents the changes in online and social media anonymity at large. At a wider scale, we can see how this impacts older generations, where threats to data and personal information may be more detrimental. While Google’s lawsuit may bring about different concerns for different generations, it is important to emphasis the major issue of this lawsuit: user privacy and security.

It is no surprise teenagers are familiar with the company’s seemingly anonymous search engine platform, and there are adequate reasons as to why this is. To many, high school is a turning point in self expression and identity, and it is crucial that we allow the space (and privacy) for individuals to ask questions, learn about the world, and, most importantly, learn about themselves. For high school students, the thought of personal searches being leaked to family members is likely tremendously more fear inducing than being given to large corporations. Therefore, when asked if student trust in private browsing modes had changed, answers were split 50/50. By creating a platform that promises privacy but in actuality holds on to personal data, there is a tremendous loss of trust from young adults and long term users.