‘Incognito’ lawsuit settlement promises Google will destroy browsing data


Google agreed to settle a lawsuit alleging that it monitored users without their consent by destroying a vast amount of data reflecting millions of users’ online browsing habits. 

Google was accused of deceiving consumers about how Chrome recorded the activities of anybody who utilized the private “Incognito” browsing option in a class action lawsuit filed in 2020. The complaint claimed that consumers were not adequately informed about the types of data being gathered, including information about the websites they saw, by Google’s marketing and privacy disclosures. 

The efforts the business will take to modify its private browsing practices are outlined in the settlement papers, which were filed on Monday in a federal court in San Francisco. Google has agreed to enhance disclosures about what it collects during private browsing, provide users the choice to block third-party cookies in that mode and erase billions of data points that the complaint claims it wrongfully acquired.

There are no damages specified in the agreement for specific users. However, the deal will let people make claims. In California state court, the plaintiff’s attorneys have already filed 50 cases. 

The settlement mandates that Google erase and rectify the data it wrongfully acquired “in unprecedented scope and scale,” according to consumer rights attorney David Boies.

“This settlement is a historic step toward holding dominant technology companies accountable and honest,” Boies stated.

Google is pleased to remove “old technical data,” according to company spokesperson José Castañeda. He said that neither personalization nor identification of an individual was ever done with the data. He deemed each case on its own meritless.

An uncommon result of a court challenge against a tech firm, the settlement would remove one case from Google’s congested docket while requiring the corporation to retroactively delete crucial customer data. One of the most significant entrance points to Google’s search engine, which serves as the basis for the company’s successful advertising business, is Chrome.

Google is defending itself against several Justice Department cases that claim it has a monopoly in the search and ad-tech industries. Additionally, it said that it would appeal a December antitrust decision that affected its mobile app store operations.

A trial that was scheduled for February was avoided by the preliminary settlement, which was agreed in late December. The Northern District of California’s Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers must still give her final approval to the arrangement. 

Millions of Google users who have utilized private browsing since June 2016 may be covered by the case. In the beginning, the lawsuit demanded $5,000 in damages for each user in breach of California privacy laws and federal eavesdropping regulations. activate-incognito-mode

Internal emails between Google officials disputing the company’s disclosures on private browsing were uncovered during the lawsuit’s discovery phase. In 2019, Google CEO Sundar Pichai received a warning from Chief Marketing Officer Lorraine Twohill that Incognito browsing shouldn’t be referred to as “private” due to the possibility of “exacerbating known misconceptions.”

Twohill later sent another email, saying, “We are limited in how strongly we can market Incognito because it’s not truly private, thus requiring fuzzy, hedging language that is almost more damaging.”

As per the settlement agreement, Google would amend its disclosures about the way it gathers personal browsing data. According to the corporation, that adjustment is already being implemented. 

As per the deal, the business is required to keep the Incognito mode in place for the next five years, which allows users to automatically disable third-party cookies. Separately, Google said that it will remove the monitoring software from Chrome by year’s end.

While a class of plaintiffs seeking pecuniary damages was denied approval, the court did award class certification for the injunctive remedies requested in the action. This implies that impacted consumers would have to bring separate cases against Google. A class action complaint alleging privacy violations was filed in state court in California on Thursday on behalf of fifty individuals.

The company that initially brought the case against Google, Boies Schiller, teamed up with a sizable plaintiffs’ firm, Morgan & Morgan, which is among the most active advertisers in mass and personal injury cases. In the upcoming months, the attorneys said they want to bring additional individual claims.

source: WSJ

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