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By Maria Michelini

April 9th 2024

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Is Incognito Mode Private? Google Settles Lawsuit to Delete Browsing History

April 9th 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Google is settling its incognito lawsuit without financial compensation.
  • The settlement entails Google deleting data records and revising disclosure agreements.
  • Google has reached a significant settlement in a class-action lawsuit regarding the tracking of users' online activities, promising to delete millions of records as part of the agreement.
  • The lawsuit, initiated in 2020, represents millions of users who have utilised private browsing since June 1, 2016. Allegations included improper tracking facilitated by Google's analytics, cookies, and apps, even when users were in "Incognito" or "private" browsing modes.

Settlement Reinforces Privacy Measures

As per the terms of the settlement, Google will not only erase or de-identify private browsing data collected up to December 2023 but also empower Incognito mode users to block third-party cookies for the next five years.

Despite plaintiffs initially seeking $5 billion in damages, the settlement doesn't involve monetary compensation from Google. Instead, users have the right to pursue damages individually in U.S. state courts.

Additionally, the settlement requires changes beyond data elimination. Google needs to limit future data collection by defaulting to blocking third-party cookies in Incognito mode for five years and must remove private browsing detection bits to ensure it no longer tracks users' private browsing choices.

Dissecting Misconceptions and Legal Responses

In response to the lawsuit, Google is revising its user disclosure agreements to clarify data collection practices and the visibility of user activity when browsing in Incognito mode. David Boies, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, described the settlement as a ‘historic step’ in ensuring transparency and accountability from dominant technology companies.

The lawsuit also clarified the misconception surrounding private browsing. Despite users' belief that it provides comprehensive protection, the lawsuit revealed that Google could still collect browsing data. Google, however, defended itself, with Jose Castaneda dismissing the lawsuit as ‘meritless’ and claiming that data collected in Incognito mode isn't associated with individual users.

In sum, the settlement marks a significant step towards ensuring user privacy and holding tech giants accountable for their data practices, while also clarifying the limitations of private browsing.

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