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Analysis: Google will destroy billions of private browsing records in settlement

Analysis: Google will destroy billions of private browsing records in settlement

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Google has reportedly agreed to destroy billions of data records to settle a 2020 lawsuit that claimed that it tracked the usage of users who were browsing in Google's Incognito mode.

Incognito mode in Chrome gives users the choice to browse the internet without their activity being saved to their browser or device.

In the lawsuit, users reportedly alleged that Google's analytics, cookies and apps were allowing it to improperly track people browsing on Incognito or private modes, according to Reuters.  

Don't miss: Google blocks and removes 5.5 billion ads: What should advertisers know?

"We are pleased to settle this lawsuit, which we always believed was meritless," said Google when MARKETING-INTERACTIVE reached out.

"The plaintiffs originally wanted US$5 billion and are receiving zero. We never associate data with users when they use Incognito mode. We are happy to delete old technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalisation," it added.

Under the settlement, Google will reportedly also update its disclosures about what information it collects while a user is browsing under its private browsing features. It will also reportedly let Incognito users block third-party cookies for up to five years, according to Reuters.  

A growing distrust amoung consumers 

The lawsuit and settlement though signal more than just the need for clarity when it comes to data collection. Rather, according to Forrester's senior analyst, Stephanie Liu, it signals a broader trend of consumers filing complaints about their data being used in ways they don't expect.

"The heart of this lawsuit was about Incognito Mode's claim of ‘Now you can browse privately.’ Users argued they weren't expecting Google to capture volumes of data on these allegedly private browsing sessions," she explained. 

Liu then noted that similarly, there have been a steady drumbeat of complaints, lawsuits, and regulatory action centered on companies collecting or sharing customer data in unexpected ways.

The rise of privacy-oriented class action lawsuits and complaints shows consumers are increasingly privacy savvy and taking action.

She added that as a result, what companies need to take away from the settlement is that transparency is truly critical, and companies need to explain how their data is shared and used. 

"And for companies thinking of quietly broadening their privacy policies or terms of service, the Federal Trade Commission has already warned this practice could be unfair or deceptive," she said, adding:

Think about the customer in these decisions: will they be okay with how we're using or sharing their data? If the answer's no, it's time to go back to the drawing board.

Agreeing with her, Melissa Yik, country director at M&C Saatchi Performance said that it is clear that consumers are seeking more control on what is tracked, or not tracked, digitally today.

She added that additionally, there is a growing sense of distrust among consumers regarding the safety and security of their online data and personal information. This is largely due to the frequent reports of data breaches, and a general lack of transparency from companies regarding what they track, store and use. 

"This underscores the need for increased accountability and proactive measures to ensure responsible data practices in order to rebuild consumer trust," she said, directly referencing big tech companies. 

She added that providing clear communication and an opt-out option for cookies that grants consumer control over their data collection could encourage them to be more willing to engage in data-sharing activities.

Join us this coming 24 - 25 April for #Content360, a two-day extravaganza centered around four core thematic pillars: Explore with AI; Insight-powered strategies; Content as an experience; and Embrace the future. Immerse yourself in learning to curate content with creativity, critical thinking, and confidence with us at Content360!

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