According to a new court filing, Google CEO Sundar Pichai was warned in 2019 that referring to the company’s Incognito browsing mode as “private” was problematic, but he stuck to his guns because he didn’t want the function “under the limelight.”
Google spokesman José Castañeda told that the filing “mischaracterizes emails referencing unrelated second and third-hand accounts.”
In recent years, amid increased public worries about online spying, the Alphabet Inc unit’s privacy disclosures have drawn regulatory and judicial scrutiny.
Users claimed in a complaint filed in June that Google illegally recorded their internet activity when using its Chrome browser in Incognito mode. Incognito only prevents data from being saved on a user’s device, according to Google, which is opposing the lawsuit.
Attorneys for the users said they “expect attempting to depose” Pichai and Google Chief Marketing Officer Lorraine Twohill in a written update on trial preparations submitted Thursday in US federal court.
The attorneys, citing Google documents, said Pichai “was informed in 2019 as part of a project driven by Twohill that Incognito should not be referred to as `private` because that ran `the risk of exacerbating known misconceptions about protections Incognito mode provides.`”
The filing continued, “As part of those discussions, Pichai decided that he `didn’t want to put incognito under the spotlight` and Google continued without addressing those known issues.”
Castañeda said teams “routinely discuss ways to improve the privacy controls built into our services.” Google`s attorneys said they would oppose efforts to depose Pichai and Twohill.
Last month, plaintiffs deposed Google vice president Brian Rakowski, described in the filing as “the `father` of Incognito mode.” He testified that though Google states Incognito enables browsing “privately,” what users expect “may not match” up with the reality, according to the plaintiffs` write-up.
Google`s attorneys rejected the summary, writing that Rakowski also said terms including “private,” “anonymous,” and “invisible” with proper context “can be super helpful” in explaining Incognito.