Google agrees to destroy browsing data collected in Incognito mode

Google agreed to destroy or de-identify billions of records of web browsing data collected when users were in its private browsing “Incognito mode,” according to a proposed class action settlement filed Monday.

The proposed settlement in Brown v. Google will also mandate greater disclosure from the company about how it collects information in Incognito mode and put limits on future data collection. If approved by a California federal judge, the settlement could apply to 136 million Google users. The 2020 lawsuit was brought by Google account holders who accused the company of illegally tracking their behavior through the private browsing feature.

The proposal is valued at $5 billion, according to Monday’s court filing, calculated by determining the value of data Google has stored and would be forced to destroy and the data it would be prevented from collecting. Google would need to address data collected in private browsing mode in December 2023 and earlier. Any data that is not outright deleted must be de-identified.

“This Settlement ensures real accountability and transparency from the world’s largest data collector and marks an important step toward improving and upholding our right to privacy on the Internet,” the plaintiffs wrote in the proposed settlement filing.

Google spokesperson José Castañeda said in a statement that the company is “pleased to settle this lawsuit, which we always believed was meritless.” Though the plaintiffs valued the proposed settlement at $5 billion, which was the amount they originally sought in damages, Castañeda said that they are “receiving zero.” The settlement does not include damages for the class, though individuals can file claims.

“We never associate data with users when they use Incognito mode,” Castañeda added. “We are happy to delete old technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalization.”

Part of the agreement includes changes to how Google discloses the limits of its private browsing services, which the company has already begun rolling out on Chrome. Google also agreed for five years to let users block third-party cookies by default in Incognito mode to keep Google from tracking users on outside websites while they’re in private browsing.

Individuals can still file claims for damages in California state court, according to the settlement terms. Already, there have been 50 claims filed.


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