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Google Settles Privacy Lawsuit Over Incognito Mode Tracking

Google Settles Privacy Lawsuit Over Incognito Mode Tracking

Apr 2, 2024

Google Settles Privacy Lawsuit Over Incognito Mode Tracking

In a significant development, tech giant Google has agreed to a settlement in a privacy lawsuit that accused the company of tracking users' online activities even when they were in Chrome's private incognito mode. This agreement, however, comes with Google strongly refuting the plaintiffs' "legal and factual characterizations" of the situation.

The class action lawsuit, initiated by five plaintiffs in 2020, implicated Google in misleading users into thinking their browsing activities were not being tracked when using the incognito mode. The case, potentially affecting millions of users, sought a staggering $5 billion in damages, which equates to a minimum of $5,000 per affected person.

Despite striking a deal, Google has consistently rejected the allegations, maintaining that the incognito mode's introductory screen and the accompanying terms and conditions sufficiently informed users about the privacy limitations and that their consent was implicit.

A joint filing by Google and the plaintiffs in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California last year indicated an agreement to "resolve the claims," subject to the court's approval. Although the settlement details were initially undisclosed, a recent legal filing on April 1 laid out the terms of the proposed settlement. Google is set to "delete and/or remediate billions of data records that reflect class members' private browsing activities," with the deletion extending to users globally.

Furthermore, Google has begun updating its disclosures relating to data collection in private browsing mode. These updates, initiated in January, aim to provide clearer information about data tracking during private browsing or using the incognito setting. Additionally, Google introduced a trial feature to automatically block third-party cookies for incognito users, a practice that will continue for the next five years as part of the settlement terms.

Plaintiffs' attorneys highlighted the settlement's impact, stating, "The result is that Google will collect less data from users' private browsing sessions, and that Google will make less money from the data."

Although Google is not conceding any financial damages in this case, the company expressed contentment with the settlement. "We are pleased to settle this lawsuit, which we always believed was meritless," said Google spokesman Jorge Castaneda. "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 settlement awaits final court approval, with the case initially scheduled for February 5, 2024. However, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers has put the trial date on hold at the request of both parties, who wish to vacate the trial date to concentrate wholly on finalizing the settlement.

This pause comes after Google's unsuccessful attempt last year to have the case dismissed. Judge Rogers rebuffed this attempt, contending that she could not align with Google's interpretation of user consent regarding data collection during incognito mode browsing.

As the legal process moves towards a resolution, the tech community and privacy advocates alike will be closely monitoring the outcome and its implications for user privacy and data collection practices.

Originally reported by The Epoch Times


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