Google to delete billions of 'Incognito' browsing data after lawsuit

Google has agreed to remove billions of data records documenting users' private browsing activities in a significant cleanup effort to settle a lawsuit accusing the search giant of illegal surveillance.

Details of the agreement were disclosed in a court filing on Monday, as reported by the Associated Press, marking over three months since Google and the attorneys managing the class-action case announced the resolution of a lawsuit from June 2020, which focused on Chrome's privacy controls.

The recent lawsuit alleged that Google tracked Chrome users' internet activity even when using the "Incognito" setting, meant to protect their privacy. Google refuted the claims.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers declined to dismiss the case in August. Negotiations ensued over four months, and the settlement terms were disclosed on Monday. 

The agreement mandates Google delete billions of personal records and enhance privacy disclosures for Chrome's Incognito mode. Additional measures are proposed to restrict Google's collection of personal data.

Will users get money? 

In the settlement, consumers involved in the class-action lawsuit won't receive damages or any other payments, a fact underscored by Google in a statement issued on Monday regarding the agreement.

In legal documents, attorneys representing Chrome users presented an alternative viewpoint, portraying the settlement as a significant win for personal privacy amidst a landscape of escalating digital monitoring. 

They assessed the settlement's value at $4.75 billion to $7.8 billion, primarily relying on calculations related to potential ad revenue generated from the personal data collected through Chrome, both historically and in the future, had it not been for the newly imposed restrictions.

What does this mean for investors? 

Investors seem unfazed by the settlement's impact on Google's digital ad sales, which make up the majority of Alphabet Inc.'s annual revenue exceeding $300 billion. Alphabet's shares climbed 3% to $155.49 on Monday, resulting in a market value of $1.9 trillion.

Austin Chambers, a data privacy lawyer at Dorsey & Whitney, hailed the settlement terms in the Chrome case as a "positive step forward," potentially reshaping online personal data collection practices in the future.

Furthermore, the settlement does not provide Google with immunity from additional lawsuits concerning the same issues addressed in the class-action case. This implies that individual consumers retain the option to seek damages from the company by initiating their own civil complaints in various state courts across the United States.

Chambers described the settlement terms as a "welcome development" that could affect the way personal information is collected online in the future.

"This prevents companies from profiting off of that data, and also requires them to undertake complex and costly data deletion efforts," Chambers said. "In some cases, this could have a dramatic impact on products built around those datasets."

The Associated Press contributed to this story. It was reported from Los Angeles.