Governance & Risk Management , Legislation & Litigation , Privacy

Google to Delete Incognito Search Data to Seal Lawsuit Deal

Proposed Lawsuit Settlement Doesn't Require Tech Giant to Pay Damages
Google to Delete Incognito Search Data to Seal Lawsuit Deal
The splash window in Chrome Incognito mode before a lawsuit forced Google to rewrite it. (Image: Shutterstock)

Google says it will delete web browsing data generated by 136 million individuals who used the tech giant's Chrome browser in Incognito mode as part of a proposed settlement ending a class action lawsuit alleging the tech giant had misled consumers about privacy protections.

See Also: Demonstrating HIPAA Compliance

As part of the settlement - which still requires a federal judge's approval - Google agreed to let Incognito users block third-party web tracking cookies by default for the next five years. It will also remove from Chrome the ability for Google to track when a user is browsing the web in Incognito mode, a function Google called "detection bits."

The settlement does not require Google to pay damages, although it doesn't prevent individual Chrome users from suing the tech behemoth for misleading them over privacy assurances.

The settlement "is an historic step in requiring dominant technology companies to be honest in their representations to users," plaintiffs told District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers of the U.S. District for the Northern District of California.

A Google spokesperson gave a more blasé statement: "We are happy to delete old technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalization." The lawsuit was "meritless" and "the plaintiffs originally wanted $5 billion and are receiving zero," the spokesperson also said.

Google for years promised users privacy when surfing the web, telling them, "You can choose to browse the web privately using Chrome in Incognito mode." Users took Google at its word, plaintiffs said in an amended complaint, expecting that Google would not collect their data.

The lawsuit cited internal emails by Google employees criticizing Incognito mode as a "confusing mess" and "effectively a lie" and raising concerns about professional ethics and honesty.

Google already rewrote the splash screen visible on every new Incognito window following litigants' December disclosure that they reached a preliminary settlement (see: Google to Settle $5B 'Incognito Mode' Privacy Issue Lawsuit).

The rewritten disclosure warns that surfing the web in Incognito mode "won't change how data is collected by websites you visit and the services they use, including Google."


About the Author

Mihir Bagwe

Mihir Bagwe

Principal Correspondent, Global News Desk, ISMG

Bagwe previously worked at CISO magazine, reporting the latest cybersecurity news and trends and interviewing cybersecurity subject matter experts.




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