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Google agrees to destroy browsing data collected in Incognito mode

Google agrees to destroy browsing data collected in Incognito mode

Google agreed to destroy or de-identify billions of records of web browsing data collected when users were in its private browsing "incognito mode," according to a proposed class action settlement filed Monday.

Under the proposed settlement in the Brown vs. Google case, the company will also have to explain how it collects information in anonymous mode and impose limits on data collection in the future. If approved by a California federal judge, the settlement could apply to up to 136 million Google users. The 2020 lawsuit was brought by Google account holders who accused the company of illegally tracking their behavior through the private browsing feature.

According to Monday's court filing, the proposal is valued at $5 billion, calculated by setting the value of the data Google would be forced to destroy and stop collecting the data. Google will need to address data collected in private browsing mode in December 2023 and before. Any data that is not completely deleted must be de-identified.

"This settlement ensures real accountability and transparency from the world's largest data collector and is an important step toward improving and maintaining our right to privacy on the Internet," the plaintiffs wrote in the proposed settlement filing.

Google spokesman Jose Castaneda said in a statement that the company was "pleased to settle this lawsuit, which we always believed was meritless." Although the plaintiffs valued the proposed settlement at $5 billion, which was originally the amount they sought in damages, CastaƱeda said they were "getting zero." The settlement does not include damages for the class, although individuals can file claims.

“We never associate data with users when they use incognito mode,” CastaƱeda said. "We are happy to remove old technical data that was never linked to an individual and was never used for any type of personalization."

Part of the agreement includes changes to how Google discloses the limitations of its private browsing services, which the company has already begun implementing on Chrome. Google agreed for five years to allow users to block third-party cookies by default in Incognito mode to prevent Google from tracking users on external websites during private browsing.

According to the settlement terms, individuals can still file claims for damages in California state court. Already 50 claims have been filed.

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