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Huge! Google to delete billions of personal data records collected from over 136 million people in US

Google has reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit accusing the company of tracking user internet activity through its Chrome browser, even in Incognito mode. As part of the settlement, Google will delete billions of personal records and enhance privacy disclosures for Chrome users.

Google to delete billions of personal data records collected from over 136 million people in US
First Published Apr 2, 2024, 7:46 AM IST

In response to a lawsuit alleging illegal surveillance, technology giant Google has agreed to undertake a significant measure: the elimination of billions of records containing personal data collected from more than 136 million individuals in the United States who have used its Chrome web browser. This move, which marks a crucial development in the realm of digital privacy, comes as part of a settlement between Google and the plaintiffs involved in the case.

The details of this settlement emerged following a court filing made public on a Monday, more than three months subsequent to the acknowledgment by Google and the attorneys representing the class-action case that they had come to a resolution. 

This lawsuit, filed in June of 2020, specifically targeted Chrome's privacy controls, accusing Google of illicitly tracking the internet activities of Chrome users, even when they had activated the browser's Incognito mode, which is designed to shield users from such surveillance.

Initially, Google vigorously contested the allegations in the lawsuit. However, their resistance was met with a setback when US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled against their motion to dismiss the case in August of the same year, thereby setting the stage for potential litigation. 

Subsequently, over the course of the following four months, negotiations ensued, culminating in the revelation of the settlement terms on the Monday in question. However, the settlement remains subject to approval by Judge Rogers, pending a hearing scheduled for July 30 in a federal court in Oakland, California.

The terms of the settlement entail several key provisions aimed at enhancing user privacy and restricting Google's data collection practices. Foremost among these is the requirement for Google to expunge billions of personal records stored within its data centres, thereby eradicating the digital footprint of millions of Chrome users. 

Additionally, the settlement mandates Google to provide more prominent disclosures regarding Chrome's Incognito mode, ensuring that users are adequately informed about the privacy implications of their browsing activities.

Moreover, the settlement imposes other controls designed to curtail Google's collection of personal information, thereby mitigating the risks associated with online surveillance. However, notably absent from the settlement is any provision for monetary compensation to the consumers represented in the class-action lawsuit. 

Google emphasized this point in a statement issued on the same Monday, asserting that the settlement primarily pertains to the deletion of old technical data that was never associated with individual users or utilized for personalization purposes.

Despite Google's portrayal of the settlement as a benign resolution to what it deems a meritless lawsuit, the attorneys representing Chrome users have painted a contrasting picture, characterizing the settlement as a significant victory for personal privacy in the face of escalating digital surveillance. 

They estimate the value of the settlement to range between $4.75 billion to $7.8 billion, basing their calculations primarily on the potential ad revenues that could have been generated from the personal information collected through Chrome.

Furthermore, it is important to note that the settlement does not shield Google from future legal challenges pertaining to similar issues. This means that individual consumers still retain the option to pursue damages against the company through civil complaints filed in state courts across the United States. Despite these ongoing legal uncertainties, investors appear unperturbed, as evidenced by the nearly 3% rise in shares of Alphabet Inc., Google's parent company, during Monday's trading session.

However, while the settlement may mark a significant milestone in the ongoing debate surrounding online privacy, Google still faces formidable legal challenges on multiple fronts. These include allegations of anti-competitive behaviour, as well as potential regulatory changes that could impact its digital ad revenues and app store regulations.

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