Google’s Incognito Mode is in trouble

Google Chrome incognito mode screenshot
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Google could soon be on the hook for deleting the private data of millions of users if the proposed settlement of a class action lawsuit is approved, according to The Verge.

The settlement proposal is part of the Brown v. Google lawsuit, for which the tech giant has agreed to “destroy or de-identify” the web browsing data it has saved from people utilizing the “Incognito Mode” feature on the Google Chrome browser. Google would be responsible for deleting billions of records and making sure undeletable records are not associated with individual users.

While the proposal was filed in a California federal court on Monday, the lawsuit has been ongoing since 2020. Google is accused of not making users aware of the extent to which their data could still be accessed in Incognito Mode. Users believed Google gave an unclear explanation of the purpose of its private browsing mechanism to illegally track individuals.

The company disagreed, noting that Google, internet service providers (ISPs), and employers have always been able to potentially view and collect data from your Chrome browser history, even in Incognito Mode.

In January, journalists found a Canary build of an updated Incognito mode that more clearly spells out the stipulations of what is hidden when you enter the browsing state.

Even so, 136 million Google users stand to benefit from this case if the settlement proposal is approved. Google will have to destroy or de-identify the data it has collected from users browsing under Incognito mode from December 2023 and earlier.

Other stipulations to the agreement include Google agreeing to block third-party cookies by default in Incognito mode. This will prevent the company from being able to track users on third-party websites when they’re supposed to be untraceable.

Despite the $5 billion valuation of the proposal, users will not receive financial damages in this case in exchange for the changes Google is making to its data and policy. However, you can file claims for damages in California state court on their own as per the settlement terms. So far, 50 known claims have been filed.

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