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Google Agrees To Delete Incognito Tracking Records

Google has agreed to delete billions of records and submit to certain restrictions on its ability to track users, according to the terms of a proposed legal settlement.

The agreement aims to settle a class-action lawsuit filed in the US in 2020, alleging that the tech giant violated people’s privacy by collecting user data even when they were browsing in “private mode.”

The lawsuit sought $5 billion in damages. Google is supporting the settlement, although it disputes the allegations. The company has already made changes in response to the lawsuit.

The data deletion will also extend beyond the United States.

In January, shortly after the two parties announced plans to settle the case, Google updated its disclosures to clarify that it still tracked user data even when users chose to search privately or using its “Incognito” setting.

This mode offers some additional privacy because it does not save browsing activity to the device being used.

During the same month, the company announced it was beginning to test a feature that would automatically block third-party cookies, which aid in tracking user activity, for all Google Chrome users.

It had previously made this block automatic for Incognito users shortly after the lawsuit was filed in 2020 and has agreed to maintain that restriction for five years, as per the terms of the settlement filed on Monday in federal court in San Francisco.

Additionally, Google has agreed to delete “hundreds of billions” of private browsing data records it had collected, according to the court filing on Monday.

“We are pleased to settle this lawsuit, which we always believed was meritless,” said Google spokesman Jorge Castaneda in a statement, noting that the company would not be paying any damages.

“We are happy to delete old technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalization.”

Despite this settlement, Google still faces lawsuits from individuals over privacy violations, which could result in financial penalties.

Attorney David Boies of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, representing users in the lawsuit, described the settlement as a “historic step in requiring honesty and accountability from dominant technology companies.”

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

Court filings on Monday revealed documents in which Google employees referred to Incognito as “effectively a lie” and “a confusing mess.”

Last year, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers rejected Google’s attempt to have the case dismissed, stating that she could not agree that users consented to allowing Google to collect information on their browsing activity.

The settlement will now be subject to court approval.

This agreement comes at a time when major tech companies are facing increased scrutiny of their practices in the US and beyond.

In the US, Google and its parent company, Alphabet, are facing two separate monopoly cases brought by the federal government.

The company has also recently settled several other lawsuits.

In 2022, it paid nearly $400 million (£318 million) to settle claims brought by US states that it tracked the location of users who had opted out of location services on their devices.

In December 2023, it agreed to a $700 million (£557 million) settlement to resolve a lawsuit brought by a group of US states alleging it stifled competition on its Play Store for Android devices.

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