Google Commits to Deleting Browsing Data in Settlement Over ‘Incognito’ Lawsuit

23 Apr 2024
Google has agreed to delete a vast amount of web-browsing data reflecting millions of users' histories as part of a settlement for a class action lawsuit filed in 2020. The settlement details, filed in San Francisco federal court, reveal that Google will eliminate billions of data points allegedly improperly collected while Chrome users were browsing in Incognito mode. This action will involve purging billions of records containing personal information collected from over 136 million people in the U.S. using the Chrome web browser.
 
The Allegations
The class action lawsuit centered on Google's alleged misleading of Chrome users about how their activity was tracked in Incognito mode. It was claimed that Google failed to properly inform users about the types of data being collected, including details about the websites viewed in Incognito mode. Among other allegations, the lawsuit accused Google of tracking Chrome users' internet activity even when they had activated the supposed privacy of the “Incognito” setting.
 
The Settlement
The settlement mandates that Google expunge billions of personal records from its data centers and make more prominent privacy disclosures about Chrome's Incognito option. It also imposes controls to limit Google's collection of personal information. Google has committed to updating its disclosures regarding data collected in Incognito mode and providing users with the option to disable third-party cookies in Incognito mode. Additionally, Google will make blocking third-party cookies the default in Incognito mode for at least the next five years.
 
This settlement avoids a trial and does not include damages for individual users, but it does allow individuals to file claims. Plaintiff attorneys have already filed 50 such claims in California state court, with more expected in the coming months.
 
Google's Response
Google spokesman stated that the data in question was never associated with an individual or used for personalization of its services. He called the lawsuit "meritless" and indicated that the company is pleased to delete what it considers "old technical data."
 
During the lawsuit's discovery phase, internal exchanges among Google executives were revealed, highlighting reservations about marketing Incognito mode as "private" due to its limitations.
 
The Aftermath
Although Google is not compensating users financially, attorneys involved in the case estimate that stricter safeguards will be valuable, based on the protected personal information. Court documents from the attorneys representing Chrome users paint the settlement as a significant victory for personal privacy in an era of increasing digital surveillance.
Pending approval from U.S. District judg, the settlement reflects efforts to address privacy concerns and alleged misrepresentation regarding Incognito mode. This settlement underscores ongoing efforts to enhance user privacy amidst heightened scrutiny over data practices in tech platforms.
 
Privacy Minders is dedicated to assisting clients in navigating the complexities of online privacy, particularly in light of recent developments such as the Google settlement. We offer tailored solutions to enhance data protection, including comprehensive audits of privacy practices, implementation of robust data governance frameworks, and guidance on regulatory compliance. By conducting thorough assessments, our firm can identify potential risks and vulnerabilities in clients' data handling processes, recommending and implementing appropriate measures to mitigate these risks. Additionally, we provide ongoing monitoring and support to ensure that clients remain compliant with evolving privacy regulations and industry standards.
 
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