Google Agrees to Delete Incognito Browsing Data to Settle Class Action

Google Agrees to Delete Incognito Browsing Data to Settle Class Action

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Google has agreed to delete “a collection of data reflecting the web browsing history of millions of users,” as reported by The Wall Street Journal today, as part of a class-action settlement filed in 2020.

Details of the settlement were presented today in a federal court in San Francisco, revealing that Google has agreed to destroy “billions of data points” that the lawsuit alleged were improperly collected while users were browsing in Chrome’s Incognito mode.

The entire class-action lawsuit revolved around this issue, alleging that Google misled Chrome users about how the browser tracks their activity in Incognito mode.

The lawsuit claimed that the company did not properly inform users about the types of data being collected, including details about the websites they visited while in Incognito mode.

Google also promises to update its disclosures regarding the data it collects in Incognito mode, giving users the option to disable third-party cookies in Incognito mode.

Google Agrees to Delete Incognito Browsing Data to Settle Class Action

The company states that it is already working on implementing these changes and will have to make blocking third-party cookies the default setting in Incognito mode for at least the next five years.

This settlement, which prevents the case from going to trial, does not include compensation for individual users but allows individuals to file claims. Plaintiff lawyers have already filed 50 lawsuits in California state court.

Jose Castaneda, a Google spokesperson, stated that the relevant data was never associated with an individual and was not used in any form of service customization, describing the lawsuit as “baseless,” and adding that the company is happy to delete what it refers to as merely “an old technology.”

However, the discovery phase of the lawsuit revealed internal exchanges among Google executives that paint an interesting picture.

For instance, Lauren Tofhild, Google’s Chief Marketing Officer, and CEO Sundar Pichai in 2019 warned that Incognito mode should not be called “private” as that could lead to “exacerbating known misconceptions.”

In a separate email, Tofhild said, “We are limited in our ability to market Incognito mode as it’s not private, and thus requires truly vague hedging language that’s almost more damaging.”

The preliminary settlement was reached in late December, and the agreement still requires final approval from Judge Eve Gonzalez Rogers in the Northern District of California.


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