Google to Destroy 'Unprecedented' Amount of Data

Move is part of settlement in Incognito case
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 1, 2024 12:01 PM CDT
Google to Destroy 'Unprecedented' Amount of Data
Lawyers say Google improperly collected data on users in Incognito mode.   (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File)

Google is going to destroy what a lawyer calls an "unprecedented" amount of data as part of a settlement in a class-action lawsuit over its "Incognito" mode. According to a Monday court filing, the company will "delete and/or remediate billions of data records that reflect class members' private browsing activities," CBS News reports. In the lawsuit, filed in 2020, plaintiffs said Google tracked people without their knowledge while they were using the supposedly private mode.

  • Other actions. Google has also agreed to update its disclosure on Incognito and allow people using the mode to disable third-party cookies by default, the Wall Street Journal reports. The Verge reports that earlier this year, Google quietly changed its description of the mode to say: "Others who use this device won't see your activity, so you can browse more privately. This won't change how data is collected by websites you visit and the services they use, including Google."

  • Damages. The suit originally sought $5,000 in damages per user. The settlement doesn't include damages for individual users, per the Journal, but they will be allowed to file their own lawsuits against Google. The Monday filing says the value of the settlement is $5 billion, according to CBS.
  • "Historic step." "This settlement is an historic step in requiring honesty and accountability from dominant technology companies," said attorney David Boies, who represented Google users. He said the settlement requires Google to destroy improperly collected data "in unprecedented scope and scale."
  • The internal debate. The Journal reports that emails found in the lawsuit's discovery phase show there was internal debate at Google over the mode. In a 2019 email to CEO Sundar Pichai, Lorraine Twohill, Google's chief marketing officer, said calling Incognito "private" risked "exacerbating known misconceptions," the Journal reports. In another email, she wrote, "We are limited in how strongly we can market Incognito because it's not truly private, thus requiring really fuzzy, hedging language that is almost more damaging."
(More Google stories.)

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