Google agrees to delete user data it secretly collected from Incognito Mode browsing sessions

Google Chrome Incognito Mode

It has been known for some time that Chrome's Incognito Mode is nowhere near as private as many people still believe it to be. Despite assumptions made -- largely due to strong suggestions -- Google was able to collect private browsing data and has faced lawsuits as a result.

As part of a class action settlement, the company has agreed to delete "billions of data points" despite having previously said that this was not possible. The change of heart means that Google should be able to avoid a damages payout in the billions of dollars.

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The lawsuit in question dates back to 2020 when Google was accused of tracking browsing activity in Incognito Mode without informing users. After much legal back and forth, Google came to an agreement with the plaintiffs just after Christmas, but details of this have only just emerged.

The newly agreed settlement means that Google must now use its Privacy Policy and a splash screen in Incognito Mode to make users aware of data collection. The company has also agreed to "delete and/or remediate billions of data records that reflect class members' private browsing activities". It had previously indicated "that it was impossible to identify (and therefore delete) private browsing data because of how it stored data".

But Google is downplaying the significance of the lawsuit, the data deletion and its own U-turn. In a statement given to the Register, the company says:

We are pleased to settle this lawsuit, which we always believed was meritless. The plaintiffs originally wanted $5 billion and are receiving zero. We never associate data with users when they use Incognito mode. We are happy to delete old technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalization.

Image credit: Mohamed Ahmed

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