Google Will Delete Web Browsing Data After Settles ‘Incognito’ Lawsuit

A class-action lawsuit alleging Google tracked users without their consent was settled by Google deleting millions of browsing histories.

The 2020 case claimed Alphabet Inc. secretly collected data from Chrome users in “incognito” mode. The suit claims that while Chrome users can turn off data gathering, other Google products used by websites, such as advertising technology, nevertheless capture their data.  

Google, which settled in December, will delete “billions” of private browsing data records, according to a San Francisco federal court filing released Monday. Google also changed its disclaimers to explain how data is collected and what websites can see in “incognito” mode. The business promised to disable third-party cookies in incognito mode for five years.  

“We are pleased to settle this lawsuit, which we always believed was meritless,” Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said. “Incognito mode never associates data with users. We gladly remove outdated technical data that was never related with an individual or utilized for personalization.  

The plaintiffs sought $5 billion in damages, but Google paid nothing. According to court records, individuals can sue Google in US state courts for damages. About 50 have done so, plaintiffs' lawyers said.  

The plaintiffs' lawyers, lead by David Boies, called the deal “groundbreaking” and a “historic step” in requiring giant digital corporations to disclose how they acquire and use user data. Google's decision to retroactively remove user data is crucial since its rich advertising business relies on its search engine. Google faces various regulatory issues in the US and elsewhere, amid growing concerns about how internet firms exploit the massive amounts of consumer data they collect.

“There has been a steady drumbeat of complaints, lawsuits, and regulatory action centered on companies collecting or sharing customer data in unexpected ways,” said Forrester senior analyst Stephanie Liu. Privacy-related class action lawsuits and complaints demonstrate consumers are becoming more privacy-savvy and taking action." Consumer representatives, including attorneys from Boies Schiller Flexner and Morgan & Morgan, said the settlement provides “substantial relief” for plaintiffs.  

The settlement also canceled a February trial in a year considered to be Google's busiest in court. In September, the US Justice Department and a coalition of state attorneys general will try the company for violating antitrust laws by illegally monopolizing digital advertising. In March 2025, Texas and other states will sue it for its ad tech practices.  

In May, a Washington court will hear final arguments for a major federal antitrust trial that says the corporation monopolized the online search industry.  

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