Is Browsing Chrome in Incognito Mode Really Private? Google Agrees to Delete User Private Browsing History as Part of a Lawsuit Settlement

Google is deleting “billions of data records” collected as users browsed the web in Incognito mode as part of a lawsuit settlement, according to new details made public on Monday in San Francisco federal court.

Google will not only delete or de-identify private browsing data records collected in December 2023 and earlier as part of the settlement, but also allow Incognito mode users to block third-party cookies for the next five years.

The plaintiffs asked for $5 billion in damages, but Google is not paying them anything at all in the settlement. The court filings stated that users can sue for damages individually, in U.S. state courts.

Google has begun changing parts of its user disclosure agreements to specify how it collects data and what activity websites can see when users browse in an Incognito tab, according to court documents.

David Boies, the plaintiffs’ lead lawyer in the case, said in a statement that the settlement was “a historic step in requiring honesty and accountability from dominant technology companies.”

Related: If You Used Google Anytime Between 2006 and 2013, the Company May Owe You Money—Here’s How to Collect

The class action lawsuit, which was filed in 2020 as Brown v. Google LLC, accused Google of tracking the browsing history and web activity of users who browsed Incognito.

Even though Google allowed users to turn off data collection by opening an Incognito tab, other Google tools could collect browsing data anyway, the lawsuit alleged.

“Google tracks and collects consumer browsing history and other web activity data no matter what safeguards consumers undertake to protect their data privacy,” the 2020 complaint stated.

Related: Google Wants Employees Back in the Office, Considering ‘Attendance’ in Performance Reviews

Google defended itself against the claims: Jose Castaneda, a Google spokesperson, stated on Monday that the lawsuit was “meritless.”

“We never associate data with users when they use incognito mode,” Castaneda told Bloomberg. “We are happy to delete old technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalization.”

Google is also defending itself in antitrust lawsuits from the U.S. Justice Department.

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