Google has agreed to destroy or anonymize billions of records of web browsing data collected from users using the “Incognito” private browsing mode. The decision comes as part of a proposed class action settlement filed Monday. The settlement also requires Google to provide more detailed information about how it collects data in non-archiving mode and to limit future data collection. If approved by a federal judge in California, the settlement could affect 136 million Google users.

Google is required to deal with data collected in private browsing mode until December 2023, and all data not explicitly deleted must be anonymized. Prosecutors in the proposed settlement said the agreement marks real accountability and transparency from the world’s largest data collector, marking a key step toward improving and preserving online privacy rights.

A Google spokesman, Jose Castaneda, said the company was pleased to settle the lawsuit, which it considered baseless. Despite prosecutors estimating the value of the settlement at $5 billion, Castaneda clarified that he will not receive any damages. The settlement does not provide for class damages, although individuals may file claims. Google reiterated that they do not associate data with users when they use anonymous mode and that they are willing to delete old technical data that was never linked to an individual or used for personalization.

As part of the settlement, Google agreed to make changes to the way it detects limitations of its private browsing services, which the company has already implemented in Chrome. Furthermore, Google will allow users to block third-party cookies by default in no-archive mode for five years, preventing tracking on external sites while in private browsing. Users can still file claims for damages in California state court under the terms of the settlement, with 50 claims already filed.

By Samantha Johnson

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