Google to Destroy or De-Identify Billions of Records in Proposed Class Action Settlement

Google has agreed to destroy or de-identify billions of records of web browsing data collected when users were in its private browsing “Incognito mode” as part of a proposed class action settlement filed Monday. The settlement, if approved by a California federal judge, could apply to 136 million Google users. This initiative comes after a 2020 lawsuit, Brown v. Google, was brought by Google account holders who claimed that the company illegally tracked their behavior through the private browsing feature.

The proposed settlement not only mandates the destruction or de-identification of collected data but also requires greater disclosure from Google about how it collects information in Incognito mode. Furthermore, it puts limits on future data collection practices by the tech giant. The proposal is valued at $5 billion, which is determined by the value of data that Google has stored and would have to destroy, as well as the data it would no longer be able to collect moving forward.

In a statement, Google spokesperson José Castañeda expressed that the company is pleased to settle the lawsuit, which they believed to be meritless. However, despite the plaintiffs valuing the settlement at $5 billion and originally seeking that amount in damages, they will not be receiving any monetary compensation under the terms of the settlement. Castañeda emphasized that Google never associates data with users in Incognito mode and is willing to delete old technical data that was not linked to any individual or used for personalization.

The plaintiffs behind the lawsuit view the settlement as a significant step towards ensuring accountability and transparency from one of the world’s largest data collectors. They believe that this agreement marks progress in upholding individuals’ right to privacy on the internet. It is clear that the focus of the settlement is on addressing past data collection practices and setting limitations for future data handling within Incognito mode.

As part of the settlement agreement, Google has committed to making changes in how it discloses the limitations of its private browsing services. These changes have already begun rolling out on the Chrome browser. Additionally, Google has agreed to allow users to block third-party cookies by default in Incognito mode for a five-year period. This measure aims to prevent Google from tracking users on external websites while they are in private browsing mode.

Individuals who were affected by Google’s data collection practices can still file claims for damages in California state court based on the terms outlined in the settlement. Already, there have been 50 claims filed, indicating that there is a demand for accountability and justice among users who felt that their privacy was violated by Google’s actions. The company’s willingness to engage in this settlement signals a recognition of the importance of respecting users’ privacy and taking responsibility for their data collection practices.

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