Google To Destroy Billions Of Private Browsing Records

Lawsuit settlement. Google agrees to destroy billions of private or “incognito” mode records as part of lawsuit settlement

Alphabet’s Google division has agreed to destroy billions of data records to settle a lawsuit claiming it secretly tracked the internet use of people who thought they were browsing privately.

Reuters reported that terms of the settlement had been filed on Monday in the Oakland, California federal court, and require approval by US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers who oversaw the case.

Reuters reported that lawyers for the plaintiffs have valued the accord at more than $5 billion, and as high as $7.8 billion. Google however is paying no damages, but users may sue the company individually for damages.

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Private browsing

It was back in June 2020 when Google was accused of a major privacy violation of millions of users, by allegedly tracking their internet use through Chrome browsers set in “private” or “incognito” mode.

The lawsuit had sought at least $5 billion.

It was alleged that since June 2016, Google had surreptitiously collected information about what people view online and where they browse, despite them using what Google calls ‘Incognito’ mode.

The lawsuit alleged that Google gathered data through Google Analytics, Google Ad Manager and other applications and website plug-ins, including smartphone apps, regardless of whether users click on Google-supported ads.

The complaint said this helped Google learn about users’ friends, hobbies, favourite foods, shopping habits, and even the “most intimate and potentially embarrassing things” they search for online.

The plaintiffs had argued that Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai had “unique, personal knowledge” of issues relating to the Chrome browser and privacy concerns.

In December 2021 a California federal judge ruled that Pichai could be questioned in the lawsuit, after Google had argued that the plaintiffs requests were “unwarranted and overreaching.”

Then in August 2023, Judge Rogers also rejected Google’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit.

In December 2023 a settlement was reached between the parties, but terms of the settlement were not disclosed at that time.

That averted a scheduled 5 February 2024 trial.

Settlement agreement

Now it has emerged that Google will destroy billions of data records under the settlement terms.

Google will also update disclosures about what it collects in “private” browsing, a process it has already begun. It will also let Incognito users block third-party cookies for five years.

“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 were quoted by Reuters as writing.

Google spokesman Jose Castaneda reportedly said the company was pleased to settle the lawsuit, which it always considered meritless.

“We never associate data with users when they use Incognito mode,” 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 personalisation.”

Reuters reported that David Boies, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, in a statement called the settlement “a historic step in requiring honesty and accountability from dominant technology companies.”

The plaintiffs’ lawyers reportedly plan to later seek unspecified legal fees payable by Google.