Google settles lawsuit over private browsing tracking

Google has agreed to destroy billions of data records as part of a settlement to resolve a lawsuit alleging that it covertly tracked the online activities of individuals who believed they were browsing in private. The terms of the settlement, which were filed in federal court in Oakland, California, are subject to approval by U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers.

The settlement, valued by plaintiffs’ lawyers at potentially up to $7.8 billion, involves no direct damages paid by Google. However, it allows users to individually sue the company for damages. The class action, initiated in 2020, represented millions of Google users who utilized private browsing from June 1, 2016, onwards.

Allegations against Google included claims that its analytics, cookies, and applications enabled tracking of individuals even when browsers were set to “Incognito” or “private” mode. This was said to have transformed Google into a repository of sensitive personal information, ranging from mundane preferences to potentially embarrassing online searches.

Under the terms of the settlement, Google will update its disclosures regarding data collection during private browsing and allow users to block third-party cookies in Incognito mode for five years. Google has emphasized its commitment to user privacy, stating that it does not link data to individual users in Incognito mode.

Both parties have expressed satisfaction with the settlement, with plaintiffs’ lawyers heralding it as a milestone in holding tech giants accountable. The settlement, reached in December prior to a scheduled trial, will see plaintiffs’ lawyers seeking legal fees from Google at a later date.