Incognito mode, “effectively a lie”. Google will delete billions of data collected in private mode

Google has agreed to delete billions of records and submit to restrictions on its ability to track users under the terms of a proposed legal settlement, the BBC reports.

Google will delete billions of data collected from users who browsed in private mode – Archive

This comes after the tech giant was accused of violating users' privacy by collecting data even when they were browsing in private mode or “Incognito“. A class-action lawsuit was filed in the US in 2020 in this regard, and the legal settlement aims to resolve it. $5 billion in damages were sought in the suit.

Basically, Google was accused of monitoring users' activity even when they set their Google Chrome browser to “Incognito” and other browsers in “private mode”.

Even though it disputes the allegations, Google stands by the settlement and says it has already made changes in response to the lawsuit. Moreover, data deletion will also be applied outside of the United States.

How Private Incognito Mode Was

Plans to settle the case were announced earlier this year, and soon after, the company updated the information to clarify that it still tracks users' data even when they opt to search privately or use the “Incognito“.

In theory, browsing in private mode or “Incognito” offers an increased level of privacy, because it does not store browsing activity on the user's computer.

Also earlier in the year, the tech giant said it was testing a feature that would automatically block third-party cookies that help track user activity for all Google Chrome users.

As early as 2020, Google was automatically blocking third-party cookies for Incognito users after the lawsuit was filed. The company agreed to keep that limit in place for five years, according to the terms of the settlement agreement filed Monday in federal court in San Francisco.

Billions of data will be deleted

According to court documents, Google agreed to delete “hundreds of billions” of data records collected from private browsing.

We are pleased to settle this lawsuit, which we have always believed to be without merit. We are happy to delete old technical data that has never been associated with an individual and has not been used for any form of personalization Google spokesman Jorge Castaneda said in a statement that the company would not pay damages, according to British journalists.

However, the company continues to be involved in lawsuits filed by individuals for privacy violations, which could lead to financial penalties.

The deal was described as “a historic step in demanding honesty and accountability from dominant tech companies” by attorney David Boies of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, who represented the users in this fight.

Incognito mode – a lie

During the legal battle, documents were brought up in which Google employees characterized Incognito mode as “actually a lie” and “a confused mess“, according to the documents presented in court on Monday.

Last year, a judge denied the company's request to dismiss the case, saying she disagreed with the idea that users consented to allow Google to collect information about their browsing activity.

The current settlement will be subject to court approval. It comes as big tech firms face increased scrutiny of their practices in the US and abroad.

Meanwhile, in the US, Google and its parent company Alphabet are involved in two separate antitrust lawsuits brought by the federal government.

Other lawsuits have recently been settled. Two years ago, Google paid about $400 million to settle complaints filed by US states about tracking the location of users who had the option not to use location services on their devices. And late last year, the company accepted a $700 million settlement to settle a lawsuit brought by a group of US states that accused it of killing off competition to its Play Store on Android devices.