Google Agrees to Destroy Data to Settle Lawsuit over Tracking of Internet Browsing

In a landmark decision, Google has agreed to destroy billions of data records to resolve a lawsuit alleging the tracking of internet usage by individuals who believed they were browsing in private.
Broadband user image by Google
The terms of the settlement, which were filed on Monday in the federal court of Oakland, California, are subject to approval by U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, Reuters news report said.

The settlement, with an estimated value ranging from $5 billion to $7.8 billion according to lawyers for the plaintiffs, does not entail direct damages payment by Google. However, it opens the door for individual users to sue the tech giant for damages. This will be a major setback for the Internet search engine giant.

Alphabet, Google’s parent company headquartered in Mountain View, California, has reported annual revenue of $307.394 billion and a profit of $73.795 billion in 2023. Digital advertising business brings majority of revenue to Google.

The class-action lawsuit, initiated in 2020, represented millions of Google users who utilized private browsing modes since June 1, 2016. Users alleged that Google’s analytics, cookies, and apps allowed the company, through its Chrome browser’s “Incognito” mode and similar functionalities in other browsers, to improperly track their online activities. They argued that this transformed Google into an “unaccountable trove of information,” accessing details ranging from personal interests to potentially embarrassing search histories.

As part of the settlement, Google commits to updating disclosures regarding data collection during “private” browsing, a process already underway. Additionally, it will enable users in Incognito mode to block third-party cookies for the next five years, thereby reducing the data collected and Google’s revenue derived from it, as stated by the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda expressed satisfaction with the settlement, reiterating the company’s stance that the lawsuit was without merit. Jose Castaneda emphasized that Google never associated data with individual users in Incognito mode and affirmed the deletion of old technical data unrelated to personalization.

David Boies, representing the plaintiffs, hailed the settlement as a historic stride towards holding dominant technology companies accountable for their actions. The agreement comes after a preliminary settlement reached in December, preventing a scheduled trial in February 2024. The terms of the initial settlement were undisclosed at the time, but the plaintiffs’ legal team intends to pursue unspecified legal fees from Google. News Desk