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After Lawsuit, Google Commits to Destroying Incognito Browsing Data

Google agreed to destroy or remediate billions of Chrome Incognito mode data records as part of a proposed class action settlement filed Monday. The lawsuit accused the search giant of violating California privacy laws in collecting Incognito mode data, a mode in which users might be led to believe is more private.

The proposed settlement in Brown v. Google will require the company give more detailed disclosures on how it collects information in Incognito mode. For the next five years, Incognito mode will block third-party cookies by default. 

“We are pleased to settle this lawsuit, which we always believed was meritless,” Google Spokesperson José Castañeda said in a statement. He added that the plaintiffs originally sought $5 billion in damages but are receiving no money. “We are happy to delete old technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalization.”

Individuals can still file claims against Google for damages, however. 

The class action lawsuit, originally filed in June of 2020, follows a string of complaints over the past few years regarding how Big Tech collects data on users. Players like Apple, Meta, Microsoft and Amazon have all been hit with data mismanagement lawsuits. For tech companies, individual tech and data points are incredibly valuable, especially for targeted advertising. Aggressive data collection may exceed users’ expectations of privacy, which was at the heart of the Google lawsuit. And more data collected means more data for cybercriminals to steal in a breach. 

Personal browsing habits can also be algorithmically tuned to influence users. US lawmakers have such concerns with TikTok, a Chinese-owned social media app with 150 million American users. It’s why the US House of Representatives passed a bill last month that would force a sale of TikTok to a US company, as there are fears the Chinese government could spy on Americans or spread misinformation.  

Data can sometimes be collected and misused, as was the case in the Cambridge Analytica scandal from 2016 in which the firm duped Facebook into providing data on millions of users so that it could target them with pro-Trump and pro-Brexit political ads. Meta settled the lawsuit for $725 million.

If you’d rather move away from Google’s search products, there are a few browsers that are built around privacy protections. DuckDuckGo positions itself as a privacy-focused browser and search engine. Brave is another browser that blocks all ads, trackers and third-party cookies by default. Even if you stay with Chrome, here are some tips for Chrome, Safari and Edge that will make your online browsing more private. 

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