Google Commits to Deleting Incognito Mode Data Following Lawsuit Settlement

Maryan Duritan
Maryan Duritan
IT Writer
Last updated: May 13, 2024
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Diving into Chrome’s Incognito mode, users anticipate a cloak of invisibility for their online explorations, safeguarding their digital footprints from being tracked. Yet, the unsettling discovery that Google had been collecting data in this supposed sanctuary of privacy rattled many. Incognito mode, designed as a refuge from the data-hungry gaze of the internet, appeared compromised.

This breach of trust spurred a lawsuit against the tech giant, accusing it of shadowing users in a space promised to be free from surveillance. The legal confrontation has culminated in Google’s concession to delete the data it secretly acquired from Incognito users.

This is a quick overview of the lawsuit, as well as an explanation of what it implies for users going forward.

Google commits to enhanced Incognito Mode privacy

Google commits to enhanced Incognito Mode privacy

Google has taken a decisive step to address privacy concerns by agreeing to eliminate or anonymize extensive records of web browsing data collected under its Incognito mode. This decision is part of a proposed settlement in the lawsuit Brown v. Google, announced recently.

The settlement extends beyond data deletion, as Google has agreed to revise its data collection practices in Incognito mode and enhance transparency regarding these practices. A key update, already in place, is the blocking of third-party cookies by default in Incognito mode, a change aimed at strengthening user privacy. Google is required to continue this cookie-blocking setting for at least five years as per the settlement terms.

Moreover, Google is updating its user disclosures, particularly the Incognito mode splash screen. The updated message emphasizes user privacy on the device level but clarifies that it does not affect data collection by visited websites and services, including Google itself. This modification aims to provide users with a clearer understanding of what Incognito mode can and cannot do in terms of privacy.

Should a California federal judge approved this agreement, it could affect as many as 136 million Google users. Initiated in 2020 the lawsuit charged Google with unauthorized tracking of user activities via its private browsing feature.

The settlement, valued at a substantial $5 billion in the court documents, reflects the worth of the data Google is compelled to eliminate and the data collection it will have to forgo. This action addresses data collected up until December 2023, with any data not outright deleted being stripped of personal identifiers.

The plaintiffs in the case expressed, “This Settlement ensures real accountability and transparency from the world’s largest data collector and marks an important step toward improving and upholding our right to privacy on the Internet.”

In response, Google’s spokesperson José Castañeda stated, “pleased to settle this lawsuit, which we always believed was meritless.” Despite the plaintiffs’ $5 billion valuation of the settlement—mirroring their initial damages claim—Castañeda clarified that the actual compensation awarded is negligible. Notably the settlement excludes class damages, though individuals retain the right to pursue their claims.

Castañeda further emphasized, “We never associate data with users when they use Incognito mode,” Castañeda added. “We are happy to delete old technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalization.”

An integral part of the agreement involves Google revising its communication about the scope of privacy provided by its browsing services, an update already in progress on Chrome. For the next five years, Google has also consented to enable a default setting that blocks third-party cookies in Incognito mode, preventing the tracking of users on external sites while they use the private browsing feature.

Despite the overarching settlement, individuals still have the opportunity to seek damages through California state court, as stipulated by the settlement conditions. To date, 50 such claims have been submitted.

What Users Need to Know

What Users Need to Know

The settlement regarding Chrome’s Incognito mode brings to light several important points for users, but it’s crucial to understand that the overall Incognito browsing experience remains largely unaffected. The key difference lies in how Google will handle the data collected in this mode, aiming to bolster user privacy.

Discovering that Google collected data during Incognito sessions may be unsettling for many, given that the mode is typically used for more private browsing experiences. The assurance now is that Google commits to deleting or anonymizing Incognito mode data as part of this settlement, addressing concerns about data privacy retrospectively.

Looking ahead, users can anticipate enhanced privacy measures in Incognito mode. According to the settlement’s terms, Google is expected to adhere to privacy protocols, including default third-party cookie blocking and anonymizing any collected data, for at least five years. This commitment promises a more secure Incognito mode experience, although it’s important to remember that this does not guarantee complete privacy.

For those seeking alternatives due to diminished trust in Google’s Incognito mode, there are several options. Privacy-centric web browsers like Brave or Vivaldi offer more robust cookie and ad-blocking features. Additionally, search engines focused on privacy, such as DuckDuckGo and Brave Search, can provide an alternative to Google’s search engine. For location privacy, exploring top VPN services could offer an added layer of security for both desktop and mobile devices.

As developments in the Google Chrome Incognito mode lawsuit unfold, staying informed on updates and changes will be crucial for users prioritizing online privacy. 

Summary

Google’s recent settlement promises a significant privacy overhaul for Chrome’s Incognito mode users. This agreement, stemming from legal action, requires Google to not only destroy previously collected data but also to adjust its data collection tactics moving forward. Noteworthy changes include blocking third-party cookies by default and refining user disclosures to ensure a more transparent browsing experience. This commitment to privacy, mandated to last at least five years, marks a pivotal step in safeguarding user data. While the settlement directly impacts Google’s approach to privacy, it also underscores the importance of user awareness and the potential for exploring alternative privacy-focused browsing options. Meanwhile, in a related concern for digital security, Activision has initiated a robust response to tackle password-stealing malware that has been specifically targeting gamers. This proactive stance highlights the growing necessity for companies to protect their users from emerging cyber threats, especially in industries highly engaging with digital technologies.

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Maryan Duritan
Maryan Duritan
Maryan Duritan, a seasoned U.S.-based copywriter and SEO specialist, excels in making complex ideas accessible. She crafts compelling website content, blogs, articles, ebooks, press releases, and newsletters, tailoring tone and voice to match client goals and audience needs. Her creative precision transforms ideas into impactful content.

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