$5bn Google Incognito Mode Lawsuit Settlement, Can You Claim?

Google has agreed to delete billions of user's data, and pay up in the face of a lawsuit against the company.

Google has agreed to destroy billions of private browsing records of millions of users in order to settle a multi-billion dollar lawsuit that claimed the tech giant covertly tracked the actions of users while they browsed in Chrome’s “incognito” mode.

Incognito – a mainstay of the Chrome experience since its launch in 2008 – is supposed to facilitate a more private browsing experience. Cookies, data, and search history are not saved, so other people using the same device cannot see the activity.

However, it has now been alleged that Google collected a lot more data on users browsing in “private” mode than it initially let on – and, as the lawsuit contends, this violates a string of federal privacy laws. With users free to make claims against Google, we explain how to process will work, and why it may involve a bit more work than your usual settlement.

What is the Google Incognito Lawsuit?

A lawsuit was initially filed against Google in the summer of 2020 which alleged that Alphabet Inc. – Google’s parent company – collected browsing data on users in Incognito mode in ways that weren’t clearly specified.

While the trial only pertains to records collected after June 1, 2016, Google Incognito was launched more than 15 years ago. Since its rollout, it has always been billed as a more “private” way to browse.

However, Google advertising and analytics tools used by websites – as well as the company’s cookies – were still helping the company covertly collect an “unaccountable trove” of user data, the lawyer’s plaintiffs said.

The company finally agreed to settle in December 2023, averting the trial set for February of this year in the process.

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The settlement’s ultimate value will be upwards of $5 billion, but could reach as high as $7.8 billion.

Although this might seem like Google got off lightly considering the millions of users likely to be impacted, its digital advertising infrastructure and the data that lives within it are among the company’s most valuable assets.

The company has also agreed to provide users with a way to block third-party cookies while browsing in incognito mode and has already updated the information it provides to users on the information it collects while they use the Chrome feature.

How to Claim in Google Incognito Settlement

Unfortunately, Google hasn’t agreed to pay any damages directly to users, so you won’t be getting nudged to claim part of the lawsuit settlement like many Facebook users recently were.

While you may be entitled to a pay out, it’s worth noting that this isn’t a simple case of filling in a form and waiting for the check to land on your doorstep. Instead you’ll need to file your own individual claim against Google in the US state courts. Reportedly around 50 people have already filed claims.

While this means that anyone who meets the criteria can make a claim against Google, the likelihood is that the hoops individuals will need to jump through will be off-putting for many. Not only is the process more involved than that of a standard class action settlement, it’s also unknown just how long the process will take, as well as how much individuals will be awarded, should their claim be successful.

In answer to the question of can you claim in the Google Incognito lawsuit: yes, but you might not actually want to. You’ll need to think carefully about whether it’s worth the time and energy. It may be worth sitting this one out, at least initially, letting others pave the way so you can see what kind of precedent gets set at state-level.

A Busy Legal Year for Google

Unfortunately for Google, this lawsuit in particular might turn out to be the least of its worries in the coming months.

The company is concurrently locked in a court battle with the US Department of Justice, with the case likely to have significant ramifications for the company’s digital advertising empire. A September 9 trial date was decided in February. Google has already fought several cases in the past – for example, the company was fined $1.7 billion back in 2019 by the European Commission for abusing the online ad market.

A similar antitrust trial – this time focused around Google’s prolonged and total domination of the search engine market – will hear closing arguments in May. So, while Google and its chatbot, Gemini, will probably make the headlines for a lot of the right reasons this year, it certainly won’t be all sunshine for Sundar Pichai and Co.

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Written by:
Aaron Drapkin is a Lead Writer at Tech.co. He has been researching and writing about technology, politics, and society in print and online publications since graduating with a Philosophy degree from the University of Bristol five years ago. As a writer, Aaron takes a special interest in VPNs, cybersecurity, and project management software. He has been quoted in the Daily Mirror, Daily Express, The Daily Mail, Computer Weekly, Cybernews, and the Silicon Republic speaking on various privacy and cybersecurity issues, and has articles published in Wired, Vice, Metro, ProPrivacy, The Week, and Politics.co.uk covering a wide range of topics.
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