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Disappearing Data in Stealth Mode


Apr 2, 2024

Google has agreed to either destroy or anonymize billions of records of web browsing data collected while users were in “Incognito” private browsing mode. This decision comes as part of a proposed class action settlement that also requires Google to disclose in more detail how it collects information in Incognito mode and limit future data collection. If approved by a federal judge in California, the settlement could impact 136 million Google users. The lawsuit, Brown v. Google, was filed in 2020 by Google account holders who claimed the company was illegally tracking their behavior through the private browsing feature.

The proposed settlement, valued at $5 billion, includes calculations for the data Google will have to destroy and the data it will be barred from collecting in the future. Google will have to handle data collected in private browsing mode until December 2023, and any data that is not explicitly deleted will have to be made anonymous. The plaintiffs praised the settlement for providing real accountability and transparency from one of the largest data collectors, stating that it marks an important step towards enforcing privacy rights on the internet.

Google spokesperson José Castañeda expressed the company’s satisfaction with resolving the lawsuit, which they believed to be baseless. Castañeda emphasized that the plaintiffs would not receive any damages from the settlement, despite the $5 billion valuation. Google also agreed to changes in how it discloses the limits of its private browsing services and to allow users to block third-party cookies by default in Incognito mode for five years.

Individuals can still file damages claims in California state court under the terms of the settlement, with 50 requests already submitted. The settlement does not provide damages to the class as a whole, but individuals have the opportunity to file claims. Google maintains that they do not associate data with users in Incognito mode and are willing to delete old technical data that has no association with individuals or personalization. Overall, the settlement marks a significant step in addressing privacy concerns and data collection practices on the internet.

By editor

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