Google agrees to destroy “anonymous mode” data Chrome to settle a lawsuit

Google has pledged to delete a large collection of data that includes the browsing histories of millions of people. The move is part of a settlement agreement in a lawsuit that claimed Google tracked users’ online activities without their consent, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The class action lawsuit, initiated in 2020, claimed that Google deceived users by not providing them with accurate information about the methods of data collection by the Chrome browser, especially when using the “anonymous mode”. The plaintiffs claimed that Google did not properly disclose the amount of data it collected, including information about websites visited.

The settlement agreement, documented in a San Francisco federal court, obliges Google to take a number of actions regarding its private browsing feature. According to the court documents, Google will delete billions of data points, revise its privacy statements to clearly state that data is collected in anonymous browser mode.

Although the settlement does not provide direct compensation to individual users, it opens the door for them to file lawsuits, and lawyers have already filed 50 such lawsuits in a California state court. David Boyes, who represents the consumer side in this litigation, emphasized the importance of the agreement, which forced Google to delete a huge amount of data.

Google spokesperson Jose Castañeda expressed the company’s agreement to delete “old technical data,” emphasizing that it was never linked to specific individuals and was not used for personalized advertising. Castañeda called some of the lawsuits baseless.

The settlement had a positive impact on Alphabet, Google’s parent company, whose shares rose 3% after the announcement. This settlement eases one legal burden from Google’s long list of legal problems. After all, the company continues to wage separate court battles with the US Department of Justice over allegations of monopolistic practices in the field of search and advertising technologies, and also intends to appeal a recent antitrust decision related to the Google Play mobile application store.

The preliminary settlement, reached back in December 2023, also postponed a trial scheduled for February this year that could have affected millions of Google users who had used Chrome’s “anonymous mode” since June 2016. As part of this lawsuit, the plaintiffs sought $5,000 per user for violations of US federal and California state privacy laws.

The investigation revealed internal discussions among Google’s leadership about the company’s perceptions of the privacy of Anonymous Mode. In 2019, Google’s chief marketing officer Lorraine Dwigill warned CEO Sundar Pichai about the potential misleading nature of labeling browsing in this mode as “private” given that certain data is retained.

According to the terms of the settlement agreement, Google will change its information about data collection when using “anonymous mode” in Chrome, and these changes, according to the company, are already underway. In addition, over the next five years, Google is obliged to ensure that this mode blocks third-party cookies by default, in addition to Google’s existing plans to gradually remove such tracking technology from the Chrome browser by the end of the year.