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Google to destroy billions of private browsing records to settle lawsuit

by Elijah
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Google to destroy billions of private browsing records to settle lawsuit

Google agreed to destroy billions of data to settle a lawsuit claiming it secretly tracked the Internet usage of people who thought they were browsing privately in the Chrome browser’s incognito mode.

Users alleged that Google’s analytics, cookies and apps allow the Alphabet unit to inappropriately track people who put Google’s Chrome browser in “incognito” mode and other browsers in “private” browsing mode.

They said this made Google an “inexplicable wealth of information” by letting it learn about their friends, favorite foods, hobbies, shopping habits and the “most intimate and potentially embarrassing things” they search for online.

Terms of the settlement were filed Monday in federal court in Oakland, California, and require approval by U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers. The class action began in 2020 and affected millions of Google users who had been using private browsing since June 1, 2016.

Under the settlement, Google will update disclosures about what it collects during “private” browsing, a process that has already begun. Incognito users can also block third-party cookies for five years.

“As a result, Google will collect less data from users’ private browsing sessions, and Google will make less money from the data,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs valued the agreement at more than $5 billion, and even at $7.8 billion. Although users do not receive compensation, they can still claim compensation individually. Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to court documents, Google supports final approval of the settlement but disagrees with the plaintiffs’ “legal and factual characterizations.”

“We are limited in how strongly we can market Incognito because it is not truly private and thus requires very vague, hedging language that is almost more damaging,” Lorraine Twohill, Google’s chief marketing officer, wrote in 2019 the CEO, Sundar Pichai.

David Boies, an attorney for the plaintiffs, called the settlement in a statement “a historic step in demanding fairness and accountability from dominant technology companies.”

A tentative settlement had been reached by December, announcing a scheduled trial on February 5, 2024. The terms were not disclosed at the time. The plaintiffs’ attorneys plan to later seek unspecified legal fees for Google to pay.

The company has faced similar lawsuits before. In 2022, the Texas Attorney General sued the company, claiming that “incognito mode or ‘private browsing’ is a web browser feature that implies to consumers that Google will not track your search history or location activity.”

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