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Google has reached a final settlement with plaintiffs in a lawsuit accusing it of still collecting end-user data when using the Chrome browser in Incognito mode. The company promises to delete all the collected data, thereby avoiding paying damages. However, the settlement does not concern all users.

Google reached a final settlement with the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit over the collection of browsing data in Chrome’s incognito mode, despite the fact that—given the mode’s name —this should not happen. In the settlement, Google announced it will remove all collected end-user data from the mode. In exchange, the plaintiffs waived the demanded financial compensation.

Snag

There is a catch, however, because it does not concern all users. Specifically, the tech giant will remove illegally collected data from two categories of end users of Chrome’s incognito mode. The first group are users with a Google account who used the mode to visit websites outside Google with Google tracking and/or ad code active, who were not logged into their account while doing so, and whose identity and browsing history were still retrieved, received and collected, as of June 1, 2016.

The second category includes end users with a Google account who visited websites via Safari, Edge, or Internet Explorer with private mode active and who were not logged into their account. Again, Google still managed to collect identity data and history from these end users from June 1, 2016.

However, users from both categories who did log into their Google account while using incognito mode are excluded from the settlement.

Escaping hefty damages

The entire lawsuit revolved around the fact that while using incognito mode, Google falsely led users to believe that this ‘anonymous’ mode allowed them to share information with other websites at their discretion.

However, disclosed internal conversations between Google executives revealed that the company was tracking incognito users to sell ads and monitor web traffic. The company allegedly used Google Analytics, apps and browser plug-ins to do so.

The plaintiffs held Google responsible for violating both U.S. federal and California state laws related to eavesdropping and privacy. They demanded damages of $5,000 (€4,500) per affected user.

This compensation, the December 2023 preliminary settlement revealed, could have totalled perhaps $5 billion. In total, even a possible 136 million users worldwide might have been misled by Google in this way.

Individual cases are still possible

With the settlement now definitive, this lawsuit comes to an end. This means that Google will escape having to pay damages (for the time being). However, The Register writes that it is possible that the search engine giant still has to pay in individual lawsuits.

Read also: Google reaches settlement over illegal tracking in Incognito mode