Google Settles ‘Incognito’ Suit, Commits to Wiping User Browsing Data

Google Settles ‘Incognito’ Suit, Commits to Wiping User Browsing Data

The exterior of the new headquarters of Google is seen at 550 Washington Street in Hudson Square in New York City on Jan. 9, 2024. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Stephen Katte

Stephen Katte

4/1/2024

Updated: 4/2/2024

Tech giant Google has agreed to settle with plaintiffs who alleged that the company invaded users’ privacy by tracking online activities even when they were using Chrome browser’s private incognito mode.
Five plaintiffs filed a class-action lawsuit in 2020. The lawsuit covered millions of users and sought $5 billion in damages, a minimum of $5,000 per affected person. The lawsuit alleged that Google misled users into believing that by using incognito mode while browsing the internet, the tech firm wasn’t tracking their activities through third-party cookies, which help track user activity.
Google has always disputed the claims. It argued that the incognito splash screen and terms and conditions make it clear that privacy settings have limits and that users were made aware.
Google and the lawsuit plaintiffs submitted a notice in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California last year, agreeing to a deal that would “resolve the claims,” pending court approval. At the time, the details weren’t revealed.
However, a fresh legal filing from April 1 revealed that, under the proposed settlement terms, Google will “delete and/or remediate billions of data records that reflect class members’ private browsing activities.” The data deletion will apply to users outside the United States as well.
The tech company will also update its disclosures about what it collects in private browsing. This process started in January, shortly after the two sides announced plans to settle the case. Google updated its disclosures to clarify that it still tracked user data even when users opted to search privately or using its incognito setting.
The same month, the tech firm announced a trial feature that would automatically block third-party cookies. The block was already in place for incognito users shortly after the lawsuit was filed in 2020, and under the terms of the settlement, it will remain in place 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 said.
While Google supports final approval of the settlement, it strongly disagrees with the plaintiffs’ “legal and factual characterizations.” The tech giant will not be paying any financial damages in this case.
“We are pleased to settle this lawsuit, which we always believed was meritless,” Google spokesman Jorge Castaneda said in a media statement.
“We are happy to delete old technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalization.”
The settlement deal is still pending, waiting for final court approval. The case was scheduled for Feb. 5.
U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers put the trial date on hold as requested by the two parties, who wanted to stay the litigation “in its entirety” and vacate the trial date so they could “focus their efforts entirely on finalizing the settlement.”
Google tried to dismiss the case last year. Judge Rogers rejected the bid, saying she couldn’t agree with Google’s argument that users consented to the company collecting information on their browsing activity while using incognito mode.
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Stephen Katte

Stephen Katte

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Stephen Katte is a freelance journalist at The Epoch Times. Follow him on X @SteveKatte1

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