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Sundar Pichai freed from questioning in Google ‘Incognito’ privacy suit

Alphabet Inc. Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai was excused by a judge from having to face questioning in a consumer privacy lawsuit over data mining.

Pichai had been ordered in December to sit for a deposition for up to two hours in a case alleging that the technology giant scoops user data through its Chrome web browser even in “Incognito” private-browsing mode.

But U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers on Monday overruled the earlier order by a magistrate judge.

Tens of billions of dollars in damages are at stake for Google in the proposed class-action case, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Matthew Schettenhelm.

“We appreciate today’s decision,” said José Castañeda, a Google spokesman. “We strongly dispute the claims in this case, and will continue to vigorously defend ourselves.”

Pichai’s deposition could have helped the plaintiffs substantiate claims that internal documents show Google knew users browsing in “Incognito” mode misunderstood how secure their data was.

The magistrate judge didn’t consider whether Pichai has “unique or superior personal knowledge” of the issues or address whether plaintiffs could have gotten the information they needed without intruding on the CEO, Rogers wrote.

But Rogers denied Google’s request to shield its marketing executive Google’s Lorraine Twohill from questioning. She upheld an earlier decision that Twohill must submit to up to four hours of questioning from plaintiffs’ lawyers who want to ask her about Incognito mode’s brand marketing.

Google lost its bid to toss the suit in March. The company denies claims that it violated California privacy and federal wiretapping laws, saying the consumers who are suing misrepresented its features and privacy controls.

The ruling comes after Pichai, who oversaw Chrome, the world’s most-popular browser, last month dodged questioning in another privacy case accusing Google of snooping on Chrome users even after they opted out of sharing their data.

Google is also facing privacy suits by Arizona, Texas, Washington, Indiana and Washington, D.C., that accuse it of tricking consumers into disclosing location data for ad targeting. Bloomberg

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