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Google’s Pichai Ordered to Answer Queries About ‘Incognito’ Mode

Dec. 28, 2021, 3:58 PM

Alphabet Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai must face questioning in a California federal court lawsuit over privacy concerns surrounding Google’s “incognito” web browsing mode.

Lawyers for the consumers who sued want to ask Pichai about user misconceptions of their privacy online while using Google’s Chrome browser. Pichai is subject to up to two hours of testimony under an order issued Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The lawsuit, filed in June 2020, alleges that Google tracks users even when they’re browsing in incognito mode. Google disputes the claims, arguing that its privacy disclosures make clear that the private browsing mode doesn’t make user activities “invisible” online.

In an earlier order, Judge Lucy Koh also allowed consumers to question Google’s chief marketing officer, Lorraine Twohill, about incognito’s branding as private.

Google has tried to toss the claims from consumers, but so far Koh has let them proceed. The company also argued against questioning Pichai, saying lower-level employees responsible for Chrome and the incognito mode are better suited to answering inquiries about private browsing.

While Google disputes the consumers’ claims, the company has cooperated with their “countless requests” during the evidence-gathering stage of the lawsuit, Google spokesman José Castañeda said in an email. “These new requests are unwarranted and overreaching,” Castañeda said.

The consumers in the suit are represented by lawyers from Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, Susman Godfrey LLP, and Morgan & Morgan PA. Lawyers from Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP represent Google.

The case is Brown v. Google LLC, N.D. Cal., No. 5:20-cv-3664, deposition order 12/27/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Vittorio in Washington at avittorio@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com