Weekend Roundup: New Google Privacy Concerns, Facebook Crisis

For millions of Americans, it was a very rough week in what’s becoming a rough year. Tech companies large and small have found themselves reacting to seismic (and often fast-moving) events. Here are just a few of the tech news stories from this week that you might have missed:

Google’s Massive Privacy Lawsuit

When you switch your browser to a privacy or incognito mode, you’re making a reasonable assumption that the company behind that browser will actually follow through on its promise not to track your session behavior. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking, because a new class-action lawsuit alleges that Google is continuing to track the activity of everyone using incognito mode in Chrome.

The proposed class action, which asks for an eye-watering $5 billion, could involve millions of Chrome users. Google is pushing back by insisting that, yes, people using Chrome’s private browsing mode can be potentially surveilled—but by the websites they visit, not Google itself. “As we clearly state each time you open a new incognito tab, websites might be able to collect information about your browsing activity,” a Google spokesperson told Reuters.

This isn’t the first time that Google has found itself insisting that it doesn’t constantly track browser-users. Earlier this year, DuckDuckGo issued a report suggesting that it’s not possible to use Google search and avoid “the manipulation of your search results based on your personal data,” even in Incognito mode. Google produced a long Twitter thread in response that suggested (among other things) that private-browsing modes don’t rely on personal information. 

As Google faces more scrutiny in general over its practices (including a potential antitrust case), we may see other class-action suits over its use of data. Expect that the search-engine giant will defend itself as hard as it can.

Facebook’s Internal Revolt

Numerous Facebook employees are reportedly fed up with CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s refusal to block, label, or delete potentially inflammatory posts by President Trump about the protests sweeping the United States. 

On June 2, Zuckerberg held a video-call meeting with employees, during which he attempted to explain his reasoning behind not touching those posts. Recode has a transcript of the call, and even if you’re not interested in Trump’s specific posts, it’s still worth reading as a fascinating breakdown of the complicated issues that come with running a massive social network. 

Zuckerberg spent the call making it clear that, like the leaders of many large organizations, he’s basically at the mercy of the teams that assemble his briefings and give him a menu of options in terms of how to respond. In light of that, he promised employees that he would “diversify” his inputs in his decision-making process. 

“Now, again, I actually from a process perspective think we do pretty well on the process around that today,” he said. “But I do think that there are probably going to be areas for improvement and areas where it may make sense to change some of the orgs around in some way to improve this and elevate inclusion a bit more.”

The transcript is also worth reading because Facebook employees ask some pretty hard-hitting questions of leadership. If you’re a manager, team leader, or someone else who’s responsible for a group of technologists, it’s worth reading for tips on how to handle (and not handle) very direct questioning. 

Apple, Amazon, Other Tech Firms React to Protests

Having already closed stores and adjusted manufacturing processes to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon, Apple, and other tech firms are now pivoting again to face the nationwide protests. According to Bloomberg, for example, Apple kept some re-opened stores closed over the weekend, and Amazon has been adjusting delivery routes and some other operations. 

Demonstrations over the death of George Floyd has driven companies to adjust on a number of fronts—logistically, PR, and product. It may also refocus attention on companies’ diversity and inclusion efforts.

Have a great weekend, everyone! Stay safe!