Tech

Google to Delete Billions of Chrome Browser Records in Latest Settlement


In recent months, Google has raced to settle a backlog of lawsuits ahead of major antitrust showdowns with the Justice Department later this year.

On Monday, the company resolved its fourth case in four months, agreeing to delete billions of data records it compiled about millions of Chrome browser users, according to a legal filing. The suit, Chasom Brown, et al. v. Google, said the company had misled users by tracking their online activity in Chrome’s Incognito mode, which they believed would be private.

Since December, Google has spent well over $1 billion to settle lawsuits as it prepares to fight the Justice Department, which has targeted Google’s search engine and its advertising business in a pair of lawsuits.

In December, Google resolved a suit with dozens of attorneys general claiming it strong-armed app makers into paying high fees. Six weeks later, the company settled a case that accused it of improperly sharing users’ private information from its defunct social media site, Google+. And in March, Google agreed to pay a Massachusetts company, Singular Computing, an undisclosed sum after being accused of stealing patent designs — a claim that Google denies.

To bring an end to the Incognito mode claims, Google committed “to rewrite its disclosures to inform users that Google collects private browsing data,” said the settlement, which was filed on Monday with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Users are already able to see the disclosure on the landing page when they open Incognito mode.

Google agreed, for the next five years, to maintain a change to Incognito mode that blocks third-party cookies by default, which limits how much web users can be tracked by sites.

“This requirement ensures additional privacy for Incognito users going forward, while limiting the amount of data Google collects from them,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers, led by David Boies, the high-profile attorney, said in the filing.

Google will also stop using technology that detects when users enable private browsing, so it can no longer track people’s choice to use Incognito mode. While Google will not pay plaintiffs as part of the settlement, individuals have the option of suing the company for damages.

Google said in a statement that the suit had been meritless.

“The plaintiffs originally wanted $5 billion and are receiving zero,” José Castañeda, a Google spokesman, said. “We are happy to delete old technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalization.”

A trial was scheduled to start in early February, though the parties said in December that they had agreed to settle.

“The settlement stops Google from surreptitiously collecting user data worth, by Google’s own estimates, billions of dollars,” Mr. Boies said Monday.

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