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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Google agrees to destroy billions of records in privacy settlement

Users accused Google of using analytics, cookies, and apps to track individuals who set their browsers to private or incognito mode.

Google has agreed to destroy billions of records to resolve a lawsuit alleging that the tech giant improperly tracked users’ internet activity while they thought they were browsing privately in Chrome’s incognito mode. This development marks a significant step towards holding dominant technology companies accountable for their data practices.

The Allegations

Users accused Google of using analytics, cookies, and apps to track individuals who set their browsers to private or incognito mode. This clandestine tracking allegedly allowed Google to amass a wealth of personal information, ranging from users’ interests and shopping habits to their most intimate online searches.

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Settlement Terms

The terms of the settlement, filed in an Oakland, California federal court, require approval by US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers. Under the agreement, Google will update its disclosures regarding data collection in private browsing and allow incognito users to block third-party cookies for five years. While users will not receive damages as part of the settlement, they retain the right to pursue individual claims for compensation.

Financial Implications

The plaintiffs’ lawyers estimate the settlement’s value at over $5 billion, potentially reaching $7.8 billion. This substantial sum reflects Google’s acknowledgment of the severity of the allegations and the need to address privacy concerns. Moreover, the agreement signifies a significant shift towards greater transparency and accountability in the tech industry.

Google’s Response

While Google supports final approval of the settlement, the company disputes some of the plaintiffs’ legal and factual assertions. Internal communications reveal Google’s challenges in marketing incognito mode, acknowledging its limitations in providing true privacy. Despite these disagreements, Google’s willingness to engage in the settlement process demonstrates a commitment to resolving the matter.

Legal Ramifications

The settlement represents a historic milestone in demanding honesty and accountability from dominant technology companies. It sends a clear message that privacy breaches will not go unchecked, and companies must be held responsible for their actions. The outcome of this lawsuit may set a precedent for future cases involving data privacy and consumer protection.

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Google has faced similar legal challenges in the past. In 2022, the Texas attorney general sued the company, alleging deceptive practices related to incognito mode. These recurrent legal battles highlight the growing scrutiny surrounding tech giants’ data practices and their obligation to safeguard user privacy.