Google to delete ‘billions’ of private data records in Incognito lawsuit

2 Apr 2024

Image: © Markus Mainka/

After four years of litigation, Google has finally agreed to a settlement that has been described as ‘historic’ by those who brought the case against the search giant.

Google has agreed to destroy billions of data records it collected through its private browsing service Incognito on its Chrome browser as part of a “groundbreaking” settlement of a class action lawsuit in the US.

First brought against it in 2020, the lawsuit alleged that Google collects browsing history and search query data from users even when they are in Incognito mode on Chrome. The lawsuit also accused the search giant of misleading users into thinking their data was not being saved.

As part of the settlement, filed in a federal court in San Francisco yesterday (1 April), Google has agreed to rewrite its disclosures to inform users that it collects browsing data and will include this information in its privacy policy and on the splash screen that appears when an Incognito session starts.

Once approved, the settlement also requires Google to either delete or de-identify “billions” of data records that reflect the private browsing activities of class action lawsuit members.

“This settlement is an historic step in requiring dominant technology companies to be honest in their representations to users about how the companies collect and employ user data, and to delete and remediate data collected,” the settlement proposal reads.

“[It] ensures real accountability and transparency from the world’s largest data collector and marks an important step toward improving and upholding our right to privacy on the internet.”

For the next five years, Google will have to maintain a change to Incognito mode that will enable users of the private browsing option to block third-party cookies by default.

“This change is important given Google has used third-party cookies to track users in Incognito mode on non-Google websites,” the document reads. “This requirement ensures additional privacy for Incognito users going forward, while limiting the amount of data Google collects from them.”

Google will also be required to remove the detection of private browsing so that user choice to browse discreetly is not tracked.

The document notes that while Google supports final approval of the settlement, it “disagrees with the legal and factual characterisations” contained in the motion. The plaintiffs estimate the value of the relief obtained through this litigation and settlement at more than $5bn.

Just last month, France’s competition watchdog fined Google €250m under EU intellectual property laws after complaints from major news publishers that the company used content from their websites to train the foundation model of its AI service Gemini (formerly Bard).

Google decided not to contest the facts of the allegations, according to the French authority, and proposed “a series of corrective measures” to address its breaches.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic