Google Set to Erase Browsing Data to Resolve Lawsuit on Consumer Privacy

April 1 (Reuters) – Google has agreed to erase billions of data records to resolve a lawsuit alleging that it secretly tracked the internet activities of individuals who believed they were browsing in private.

The terms of the settlement were submitted on Monday in the federal court of Oakland, California, and await approval from U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers. Attorneys for the plaintiffs estimated the settlement’s worth to be over $5 billion, with some valuations as high as $7.8 billion. Google will not pay any damages as part of the settlement, but individual users retain the right to pursue damages through separate lawsuits.

The class action lawsuit, initiated in 2020, represents millions of Google users who engaged in private browsing since June 1, 2016. Users alleged that Google’s analytics, cookies, and applications enabled its parent company Alphabet (GOOGL.O) to improperly monitor individuals who utilized Google Chrome’sIncognito” mode or other browsers’ “private” browsing modes.

According to users, this practice transformed Google into an “unregulated repository of information,” enabling it to gather insights into their social circles, preferences, hobbies, shopping tendencies, and even the most personal and potentially embarrassing online searches.

As per the terms of the settlement, Google will revise its disclosures regarding data collection during “private” browsing, a process it has already initiated. Additionally, it will allow Incognito mode users to block third-party cookies for a duration of five years.

“The outcome will lead to Google gathering less data from users’ private browsing sessions, consequently reducing Google’s profits derived from such data,” stated the plaintiffs’ legal representatives.

Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda expressed satisfaction with the settlement, which the company consistently deemed baseless. “We do not associate data with individual users when they utilize Incognito mode,” Castaneda asserted. “We are content to erase outdated technical data that was never linked to any individual or utilized for personalization.”

In a statement, David Boies, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, hailed the settlement as “a significant stride toward compelling honesty and transparency from dominant technology firms.”

A preliminary settlement had been reached in December, preempting a scheduled trial on February 5, 2024. However, the terms of the settlement were not disclosed at that time. The plaintiffs’ legal team intends to subsequently seek unspecified legal fees from Google.