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Google Commits to Deleting Billions of Private Browsing Records After Class-Action Lawsuit

Published April 03, 2024
2 months ago

Google, the tech giant known for its dominant search engine and suite of internet services, has announced it will be erasing billions of records concerning users' incognito browsing activities. This decision came as part of a resolution to a class-action lawsuit which contested Google's tracking methods—more particularly when users presumed their data was private while using Chrome’s incognito mode.

The lawsuit, initiated in 2020, criticized Google for its alleged covert data collection through Chrome's incognito mode. Despite users initiating this mode for privacy, Google's embedded tools within various websites continued to gather information. The suit raised pivotal questions regarding user consent and the integrity of browsing privacy.

After agreeing to a settlement in December, Google is now actioning the deletion of extensive data, an undertaking disclosed during a San Francisco federal court filing. Google also adjusted its user disclosures to enhance transparency around data collection and allowed incognito users to block third-party cookies, a change set to last for five years.

Google’s spokesperson, Jose Castaneda, maintained the company's innocence, emphasizing that data collected in incognito mode was never attributed to individuals or used for personalization. Despite this stance, the lawsuit's settlement stipulated no financial penalties for Google, a departure from the initial $5 billion in damages sought by the plaintiffs. Instead, individuals maintain the right to file separate claims in U.S. state courts, a route that has already been pursued by approximately 50 claimants.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys, including prominent lawyer David Boies, have labeled the settlement pioneering, pressing tech companies into new territory of user data clarity and accountability.

For Google, relinquishing such extensive amounts of data is a bold move. User information is the lifeblood of Google's thriving ad business, relying on user data to hone their advertising efficiency. This move comes amid a flurry of regulatory scrutiny over data practices by large tech firms in the U.S. and overseas.

Privacy experts, including Forrester senior analyst Stephanie Liu, see the growing focus on consumer privacy actions as a demonstration of the public's increased awareness and willingness to hold tech enterprises to account.

The settlement avoided a trial that had been set for February; this concession emerges amid a challenging year for Google, with several impending legal and regulatory battles. Among these is a Department of Justice lawsuit concerning alleged monopoly practices within digital advertising markets, set for trial in September, and a similar lawsuit scheduled for 2025.

A separate landmark antitrust trial slated for May accuses Google of unlawfully monopolizing the online search arena, making this settlement—though limited in financial impact—an important moment for the corporation, reflecting concessions and foresight into the evolving landscape of digital privacy and consumer rights.

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