Google to Destroy 'Incognito' Browsing Data in Settlement of Consumer Privacy Lawsuit

By Leira Aquino

Apr 02, 2024 02:30 AM EDT

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Google settles class-action lawsuit by agreeing to delete billions of user browsing data, responding to allegations that Chrome's "incognito" mode tracked users.
(Photo : LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images)

Google has agreed to delete billions of  user browsing data to reach a settlement in a class-action lawsuit, following accusations that it tracked individuals without their knowledge, according to court filings made public on Monday.

Filed in 2020, the lawsuit alleged that Google, through its Chrome web browser, collected data from users in its "incognito" browsing mode. While this mode is intended to disable data collection, other Google tools still captured user data, the suit claimed.

Google's Alleged Misleading Practices Lead to Landmark Settlement

The terms of the settlement, valued between $5 billion and $7.8 billion, were presented in the Oakland, California federal court, pending approval by US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers. 

The lawsuit encompassed over 136 million consumers who used Chrome since June 1, 2016, as per the NBC News.

According to court documents, the plaintiffs argued that Google misled users into believing their browsing data was private while it was actually being collected. 

Despite the settlement, Google will not pay damages directly to users. Instead, individuals retain the option to pursue their own claims against the tech giant in state courts.

Plaintiffs' lawyers stated that approximately 50 people have already pursued individual claims, Bloomberg reported.

The legal team representing the plaintiffs, spearheaded by attorney David Boies, hailed the settlement as groundbreaking and a significant milestone. 

They emphasized its importance in demanding transparency from major technology firms regarding their data collection practices and the necessity to rectify and delete collected data.

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Google Agrees to Changes in Incognito Mode Following Settlement

In addition to deleting consumer data, the settlement mandates changes to incognito mode. For the next five years, Google must default to blocking third-party cookies in this mode. 

The company is also required to update its disclosures to inform users about the data collected during private browsing sessions.

"The result is that Google will collect less data from users' private browsing sessions, and that Google will make less money from the data," the plaintiffs' lawyers emphasized in the settlement.

Judge Rogers previously denied Google's request to dismiss the case in August. She is expected to approve the settlement terms on July 30 in Oakland.

Google expressed contentment with the settlement, highlighting its commitment to data privacy in incognito mode. Nevertheless, the company reiterated its position that the lawsuit lacked merit.

 "We are pleased to settle this lawsuit, which we always believed was meritless. We never associate data with users when they use incognito mode," Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said. "We are happy to delete old technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalization."

READ MORE: Apple, Google, and Meta Face Potential Billion-Dollar Fines From European Commission Over Market Violations

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