Google Settles Incognito Mode Data Collection Lawsuit: Agrees to Delete Browsing Data

Google Settles Incognito Mode Data Collection Lawsuit: Agrees to Delete Browsing Data

Google agrees to destroy or de-identify billions of Incognito mode browsing records as part of a $5 billion proposed settlement.

Google has agreed to delete or de-identify billions of records of web browsing data collected while users were in its private browsing "Incognito mode." This decision is part of a proposed class action settlement filed in a California federal court on Monday.

The settlement, proposed in the case of Brown v. Google, will require Google to disclose more information about how it collects data in Incognito mode and impose limits on future data collection. If a California federal judge approves, the settlement could impact 136 million Google users. The lawsuit, initiated in 2020, was brought by Google account holders who alleged that the company unlawfully tracked their behaviour through the private browsing feature.

Valued at $5 billion, the proposed settlement accounts for the data Google will be required to destroy and the limitations it will face on future data collection. Google must address data collected in private browsing mode until December 2023, either by outright deletion or de-identification.

"This Settlement ensures real accountability and transparency from the world's largest data collector and marks an important step toward improving and upholding our right to privacy on the Internet," the plaintiffs wrote in the proposed settlement filing.

Google spokesperson José Castañeda said the company is "pleased to settle this lawsuit, which we always believed was meritless." Though the plaintiffs valued the proposed settlement at $5 billion, the amount they initially sought in damages, Castañeda said they are "receiving zero." The settlement does not include damages for the class, though individuals can file claims.

"We never associate data with users when they use Incognito mode," Castañeda added. "We are happy to delete old technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalization."

As part of the agreement, Google will change its disclosures regarding the capabilities of its private browsing services, which have already commenced rollout on Chrome. Additionally, Google has committed to allowing users to block third-party cookies by default in Incognito mode for five years, preventing Google from tracking users on external websites while they are in private browsing.

While the settlement terms allow individuals to file claims for damages in California state court, 50 claims have already been filed.

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