Google Agrees to Delete Billions of Records of Browsing Data as Part of Proposed “Incognito Mode” Settlement

Google’s Chrome browser’s “Incognito Mode” faces legal challenges due to alleged lack of transparency in internal user tracking. A proposed settlement in a class action suit could result in Google deleting browsing data of around 136 million users, totaling “billions” of records.

The settlement aims to limit Google’s data collection and enhance transparency regarding user tracking on third-party websites. Despite an estimated $5 billion loss in advertising revenue for Google, the settlement does not provide damages to plaintiffs.

The class action suit, Brown v. Google, originated in 2020, questioning Google’s claim of Incognito Mode providing “private browsing” while its advertising network still tracked users across third-party sites.

Google, previously unsuccessful in dismissing the case, asserts that Incognito Mode doesn’t guarantee invisibility but prevents local data storage. The settlement targets Incognito Mode data from June 1, 2016, to pre-2024, with Google committing to delete or “de-identify” records and improve disclosures.

Google views the settlement positively, considering the loss abstract and not a direct payout. Despite no monetary compensation, affected parties in California can file individual claims. Google refrains from contesting final approval, expected in July. Internal emails reveal skepticism among Google executives about advertising Incognito Mode as “private” due to ongoing data logging, challenging its ethical implications.

While Incognito Mode offers users some control over data sharing, Chrome continues sharing data with Google’s advertising tools like Ad Manager and Analytics, despite the ongoing transition to cookie-free browsing.

Other major browsers offer similar private browsing options with comparable limitations, but Google’s unique situation lies in the inability to opt out of certain data collection without third-party interventions.Private browsing modes primarily focus on individual privacy on shared devices, contrasting with Google’s marketing implications. The financial implications for Google remain uncertain beyond projected revenue loss.


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