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Google agrees to erase incognito mode search data in response to $5 bn privacy lawsuit

Written by  Annesha Barua -- April 02nd 2024 11:18 AM
Google agrees to erase incognito mode search data in response to $5 bn privacy lawsuit

Google agrees to erase incognito mode search data in response to $5 bn privacy lawsuit

PTC News Desk: In a significant legal development, Google has agreed to delete extensive search data as part of a settlement in a lawsuit accusing the tech giant of tracking millions of US users who believed they were browsing the internet privately.

According to court documents filed on Monday in San Francisco federal court, if approved by a judge, the proposed settlement will compel Google to "delete and/or remediate billions of data records" associated with individuals using the Chrome browser's incognito mode.


"This settlement is an historic step in requiring dominant technology companies to be honest in their representations to users about how the companies collect and employ user data, and to delete and remediate data collected," stated lawyer David Boies in the filing.

A hearing scheduled for July 30 before Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers will determine whether to approve the deal, which would enable Google to avoid a trial in the class-action suit. The settlement does not entail any cash damages but offers an avenue for Chrome users who feel aggrieved to individually sue Google for compensation. Originally filed in June 2020, the lawsuit sought damages of at least $5 billion.

"We are pleased to settle this lawsuit, which we always believed was meritless," remarked Google spokesman Jorge Castaneda in a statement. He added, "We are happy to delete old technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalisation."

At the heart of the lawsuit was the "Incognito Mode" feature in the Chrome browser, which plaintiffs argued misled users into believing their online activity was not being tracked by Google. Internal emails from Google introduced as evidence in the lawsuit revealed that users in incognito mode were, in fact, being tracked by the company for web traffic analysis and targeted advertising.

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The lawsuit, filed in a California court, alleged that Google's practices violated users' privacy by deliberately misleading them with the incognito option. It contended that Google had amassed an extensive repository of individuals' personal information, including intimate details of their lives and internet usage.

As part of the settlement terms, Google will be required to block third-party tracking "cookies" by default in Incognito Mode for the next five years. These cookies, small files used to track web navigation for targeted advertising, are typically placed by visited sites rather than the browser itself.

Is Google saying goodbye to cookies?

Earlier this year, Google took a significant step by restricting third-party cookies for certain users of its Chrome browser, signaling its intention to eventually phase out these files due to privacy apprehensions.

Back in January 2020, Google had declared its plan to eradicate third-party cookies within a two-year timeframe. However, the implementation has faced multiple delays, largely due to resistance from web media publishers.

In recent times, cookies have faced increased regulation, notably with the implementation of the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation in 2016, alongside California's own regulatory measures.

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(Inputs from agencies)

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