In a landmark move, Google has agreed to destroy billions of data records to settle a lawsuit alleging the secret tracking of internet users who believed they were browsing privately.

The terms of the settlement were filed in the Oakland, California federal court and are subject to approval by U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers. The preliminary settlement, reached in December, forestalled a scheduled trial set for February 5, 2024.

Terms of the Settlement

The settlement requires Google to destroy vast amounts of data. While Google is paying no damages under the agreement, individual users retain the right to sue the company for damages. Lawyers for the plaintiffs estimate the value of the accord to be between $5 billion and $7.8 billion. The class action lawsuit, initiated in 2020, represents millions of Google users who utilised private browsing since June 1, 2016.

Users alleged that Google’s analytics, cookies, and apps enabled the improper tracking of individuals who used Google Chrome’s “Incognito” mode or other browsers’ “private” browsing mode. This practice allegedly allowed Google to gather extensive personal data, including information on users’ interests, hobbies, and online searches. Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda stated that the company never associates data with users when they use Incognito mode and expressed satisfaction with the settlement.

Legal Implications and Future Steps

As part of the settlement, Google has begun updating disclosures regarding its data collection practices in private browsing modes. Additionally, Incognito users will have the option to block third-party cookies for the next five years. This move aims to reduce the amount of data collected during users’ private browsing sessions and curtail Google’s revenue from such data.

David Boies, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, hailed the settlement as a significant stride towards accountability in the technology sector.  The plaintiffs’ legal team intends to seek unspecified legal fees from Google as part of the settlement process, marking a pivotal moment in the ongoing debate over consumer privacy rights in the digital age.

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