In the United States, Google agrees to destroy the personal data of users who have activated Chrome's "private browsing" option

Staying anonymous by enabling the “incognito” option was not guaranteed

In the United States, Google agrees to destroy the personal data of users who have activated Chrome's "private browsing" option

Staying anonymous by enabling the “incognito” option was not guaranteed. Google has agreed to destroy the data collected on more than 136 million American Internet users who have used the Google Chrome browser by having activated this option, called “private browsing” in French, according to an agreement made public Monday April 1. The latter aims, for the company, to put an end to proceedings initiated in June 2020 against it. This class action accused the world number one digital advertising company of having misled Internet users about the way in which Chrome tracked people using its option, supposed to guarantee the private nature of navigation.

“Plaintiffs' efforts obtained key admissions from Google employees, including documents describing “incognito” as “a lie in practice,” a “problem of professional ethics and honesty elementary,” and a “confusing mess,” the lawyers recount in the agreement, filed Monday in a San Francisco court. If approved by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in July, Google will avoid a trial but must "delete and/or remediate billions of data records" collected while people are browsing online using the "incognito" option. .

Google has also undertaken to “immediately” reformulate the notice displayed for this option, in order to “inform users that it collects private browsing data”. When this option is activated, the company must also block by default third-party cookies, software used in particular to track users online and target them with advertising. Google has already begun its transition towards the end of these highly criticized cookies.

The agreement does not provide for the payment of compensation, while the complaint filed in 2020 demanded $5 billion. However, it leaves the option for Chrome users who feel wronged to sue the company separately for money.

“We are pleased to end lawsuits that we have always believed to be baseless,” said Jorge Castaneda, a Google spokesperson. We are happy to remove old technical data that has never been associated with individuals and has never been used for any form of personalization. The original complaint accused Google of having "turned itself into an unaccountable information trove, information so detailed and vast that even George Orwell could never have imagined it."

The next few months promise to be busy for Google on the legal front in the United States. The company is also being sued by the Department of Justice and a coalition of American states who accuse it of violating competition law in the online advertising market. Google is also accused of having “illegally maintained a monopoly in online search”, thanks to agreements made with smartphone manufacturers. In this aspect, a first judgment is expected by mid-2024.