Google agrees to delete records and limit tracking for private mode 

Google has announced a proposed legal settlement that would mean deleting large amounts of records and accepting certain restrictions on its ability to track users. 

The agreement aims to resolve a class action lawsuit for billions of dollars filed in the US in 2020, alleging that the tech giant violated users’ privacy by collecting their data even when they were browsing in “private mode”.

The lawsuit alleged that despite Google’s claims, it tracked users’ activity even when they used the Google Chrome browser’s “Incognito” mode or other browsers’ “private” mode. 

Documents in the court filings said Incognito was “effectively a lie” and “a confusing mess”. Last year, Judge Yvonne Rogers rejected Google’s attempt to dismiss the case, stating that users did not consent to Google collecting information on their browsing activity. 

This deal comes amid heightened scrutiny of big tech firms’ practices in the US and globally. In the US, Google and its parent company Alphabet face two separate antitrust cases brought by the federal government.

While Google supports the deal, it disputes the accusations and has already implemented changes in response to the lawsuit. The data deletion will extend beyond the United States.

Following the announcement of plans to settle the case in January, Google updated its policies to clarify that it still tracked user data even in private or “Incognito” mode. This mode offers some increased privacy by not saving browsing activity to the device being used.

During the same month, Google began testing a feature to automatically block third-party cookies, which aids in tracking user activity, for all Google Chrome users. 

It had previously made this block automatic for Incognito users after the lawsuit was filed in 2020 and has committed to maintaining this restriction for five years, per the terms of the settlement filed in federal court in San Francisco on Monday. Additionally, Google agreed to delete “hundreds of billions” of private browsing data records it had accumulated.

Google continues to face individual lawsuits over privacy violations which could mean financial penalties. Lawyer David Boies of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, representing users in the case, said the deal is “historic” and holds dominant technology companies accountable.

A spokesperson for Google added: “We are pleased to settle this lawsuit, which we always believed was meritless. We are happy to delete old technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalization.”


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