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Google to purge 'private' Incognito mode user records, but will keep snooping

Ethan Baron, The Mercury News on

Published in Business News

Google’s privacy policy, under the settlement, must disclose that when people use Incognito, third-party websites and apps using Google services may share data with Google.

The lawsuit claimed Google’s data collection, including via Incognito, allowed it to create a “cradle-to-grave profile” of any user. “Google’s ability to associate a particular user’s online activity with his identity … is unquestionable,” the lawsuit said.

The company insisted Tuesday that it does not link Incognito mode data to particular people.

“We never associate data with users when they use Incognito mode,” company spokesman José Castañeda said in a statement. “We are happy to delete old technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalization.”

The plaintiffs’ notice alleged that Google had been able to identify Incognito users with high probability by combining browser data with the internet-protocol addresses that identify devices on the internet or local networks. Under the deal, Google will partially redact IP addresses it collects and alter the way it gathers browser information, the notice said.

Bitterness over the contentious legal action was evident from both sides this week.

“Google not only resisted disclosure of key evidence but also engaged in (legal) misconduct,” said the plaintiffs’ notice. “The efforts to obtain this evidence and hold Google accountable was a trial unto itself.”

 

A judge sanctioned Google several times for violating court orders and breaking document-production rules, the notice said, citing court orders that remain sealed from public view.

Google, in responding to the settlement terms, called the lawsuit meritless. “The plaintiffs originally wanted $5 billion and are receiving zero,” spokesman Castañeda said.

According to the plaintiffs’ notice, every class member retains the right to sue the company.

The plaintiffs’ notice said Google employees sought for years to simplify the disclosures on Incognito’s opening screen to prevent users from arriving at “incorrect conclusions.”

“Google’s executives at the highest levels were aware of these concerns, but nothing changed,” the notice said.

Google and plaintiffs Chasom Brown, Christopher Castillo and Monique Trujill,o of California, William Byatt, of Florida, and Jeremy Davis, of Arkansas, said in a December court filing they had reached a deal but did not disclose details. A judge must approve the settlement.


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