Google to Delete Billions of Browsing Records in Settlement of Privacy Lawsuit Against 'Incognito Mode'

Google to Delete Billions of Browsing Records in Settlement of Privacy Lawsuit Against ‘Incognito Mode’

A class action lawsuit has reached a settlement with Google, whereby the search behemoth pledges to delete billions of data records containing users’ browsing activities. The suit claimed that Google had secretly traced the users through its Chrome browser without their consent or knowledge.

In 2020, the company initiated a class action lawsuit, alleging that it deceived users by monitoring their online activities, which they believed to be private, when they used “private” or “incognito” modes on web browsers like Chrome.

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It came to light towards the end of December 2023 that the organization had agreed to a settlement regarding the litigation. At this time, the agreement is awaiting U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers’s approval.

A court filing dated April 1, 2024 stated, “The settlement provides broad relief regardless of any challenges presented by Google’s limited record-keeping.”

“Much of the private browsing data in these logs will be deleted in their entirety, including billions of event-level data records that reflect class members’ private browsing activities.”

In addition, Google is obligated to eliminate data that enables the identification of private browsing data through measures such as redacting data points like IP addresses and generalizing user-agent strings, as well as eliminating specific URLs within a given website (retaining only the domain-level portion of the URL).

Furthermore, there has been a request to remove the X-Client-Data header field. Google defines this header as part of the Chrome-Variations package, which records “the current status of the Chrome installation, including active variations and server-side experiments that could potentially impact the installation.”

The generation of this header commences with a randomized seed value, thereby imparting it with the potential to discern particular Chrome users.

Additional settlement provisions require Google to disable third-party cookies for five years when using Chrome’s Incognito Mode; the company has already implemented this feature for all users. A distinct initiative by the technology company is to automatically remove monitoring cookies by the conclusion of the current year.

Since then, in January 2024, Google clarified that the wording of Incognito Mode has not been altered with regard to “the manner in which data is gathered by the websites you visit and the services they employ, including Google.”

The lawsuit obtained statements of admission from Google employees wherein they described the Incognito browsing mode of the browser as a “message of confusion,” “virtually a fabrication,” and a “concern of fundamental integrity and professional ethics.”

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Additionally, it revealed internal communications in which executives discussed whether to call Incognito Mode “private” or whether it could “exacerbate known misconceptions.”

In an effort to reduce spam and fraud attacks, Google has begun automatically barring mass senders in Gmail that do not comply with its email sender guidelines. This development coincides with the announcement that Google has begun doing so.

Email senders must now include a one-click unsubscribe feature and respond to unsubscribe requests within two days if they send more than 5,000 messages per day to Gmail accounts.


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