Google to Wipe Secret ‘Incognito’ Mode Data Following Federal Court Settlement

( – As part of a federal court settlement, tech giant Google has agreed to destroy millions of users’ private browsing history gathered while using the internet browser Chrome in “incognito” mode, the legitimacy of which was challenged internally by employees.

On Monday, April 8th, a settlement was filed in the US District Court of the Northern District of California. It claims that despite informing users that if they use Google Chrome in “incognito” mode they can now “browse privately,” the tech giant did not specify to the users that some of their data was still being harvested or what data was collected. The plaintiffs’ lawyers also cited internal communications from Google showing that employees pointed out to managers the false advertising behind incognito mode.

According to the class-action lawsuit against the company, Google continued scraping search history from users in incognito mode using data hoovered up by advertising tools in order to measure web traffic on sites and sell more ads. The lawsuit says “potentially embarrassing” searches from millions of users were gathered by Google and used in this way. The plaintiff’s attorneys wrote in a statement that the tech giant has turned itself into “an unaccountable trove of information” which they claim is “so detailed and expansive” that even George Orwell, author of the dystopian novel 1984, “could never have dreamed it.”

During the pending lawsuit, Google altered the splash screen that appears after going into incognito mode to specify to its users that internet service providers, employers, schools, and websites can still see browsing history while in that mode. Under the new settlement, the company will also have to state on that splash screen that Google itself may also continue tracking users’ browsing data while they are browsing incognito. The company will also have to block third-party companies automatically from being able to track cookies from browsing activity.

José Castañeda, a spokesman for Google, said that the company would gladly “delete old technical data” he claims “was never associated” with individual users and “never used for any form of personalization.” Castañeda also pointed out the $5 billion in damages sought by the plaintiffs, which he said the company would not pay as part of the settlement.

Although the deal still awaits final approval by U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, it would avert a potentially lengthy and expensive trial which was originally set to begin in February but was delayed for the agreement negotiations process.

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