Google To Purge Billions Of Files Containing Personal Data In Settlement Of Chrome Privacy Case

(AP) — Google has agreed to purge billions of records containing personal information collected from more than 136 million people in the United States surfing the Internet through its Chrome web browser.

The records purge comes as part of a settlement in a lawsuit accusing the search giant of illegal surveillance.

The details of the deal emerged in a court filing Monday, more than three months after Google and the attorneys handling the class-action case disclosed they had resolved a June 2020 lawsuit targeting Chrome’s privacy controls.

Among other allegations, the lawsuit accused Google of tracking Chrome users’ Internet activity even when they had switched the browser to the “Incognito” setting that is supposed to shield them from being shadowed by the Mountain View, California, company.

Google vigorously fought the lawsuit until US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers rejected a request to dismiss the case last August, setting up a potential trial.

The settlement was negotiated during the next four months, culminating in Monday’s disclosure of the terms, which Rogers still must approve during a hearing scheduled for July 30 in Oakland, California, federal court.

The settlement requires Google to expunge billions of personal records stored in its data centres and make more prominent privacy disclosures about Chrome’s Incognito option when it is activated. It also imposes other controls designed to limit Google’s collection of personal information.

Consumers represented in the class-action lawsuit won’t receive any damages or any other payments in the settlement, a point that Google emphasised in a Monday statement about the deal.

“We are pleased to settle this lawsuit, which we always believed was meritless,” Google said. The company asserted it is only being required to “delete old personal technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalisation.”

In court papers, the attorneys representing Chrome users painted a much different picture, depicting the settlement as a major victory for personal privacy in an age of ever-increasing digital surveillance.

The lawyers valued the settlement at $4.75 billion to $7.8 billion, relying on calculations based primarily on the potential ad sales that the personal information collected through Chrome could have generated in the past and future without the new restrictions.

The settlement also doesn’t shield Google from more lawsuits revolving around the same issues covered in the class-action case. That means individual consumers can still pursue damages against the company by filing their own civil complaints in state courts around the US.