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Good News, Sickos! Google Says It’s Deleting Records of Your Incognito Searches

Not-So-Incognito

In response to a lawsuit, Google is going to delete billions of data points from users who browsed on Chrome's Incognito mode — which is great news for those who have used it for not-safe-for-work purposes.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, the settlement in Google's class action lawsuit, which was filed in California in 2020 and settled in December 2023, will require the company to not only delete a ton of old Incognito data, but also to update its disclosures about what data it collects and allow users to opt out of the cookies that do the recording of, say, those nasty PornHub searches you end up making.

The company claimed in a statement to the newspaper that its Incognito browser data was never associated with individual users or used to personalize accounts in any way — but as the lawsuit itself maintained, Google's marketing of Incognito misled users into thinking that the private browsing mode would include no tracking whatsoever.

Incriminating

In discovery for this newly-settled suit, internal communications between Google employees revealed to the public in 2022 that some at the company were concerned about Incognito's marketing being misleading — while others found it to be a laughing matter.

"We need to stop calling it Incognito and stop using a Spy Guy icon," one employee wrote in a 2018 exchange after sharing a study about people discovering the lack of privacy afforded by so-called "private" browsing options. In response, another employee linked to a fan wiki page for "Guy Incognito," a "Simpsons" character who's simply Homer Simpson with a mustache and a suit, pretending to be a spy.

"Regardless of the name," the second employee continued in the damning interaction, "the Incognito icon should have always been [Guy Incognito]... which also accurately conveys the level of privacy it provides."

The misnomer wasn't missed on the C-Suite at Alphabet, Google's parent company, either.

"We are limited in how strongly we can market Incognito because it’s not truly private, thus requiring really fuzzy, hedging language that is almost more damaging," Lorraine Twohill, Google's chief marketing officer, warned Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai in another such email revealed during this suit's discovery.

While the initial class action suit proposed payouts of up to $5,000 for Incognito users whose data was wrongfully collected, the latest settlement doesn't award any individual plaintiffs. It does, however, provide for individuals to sue for their own damages — and as the WSJ notes, some of the attorneys who brought the lawsuit have already brought an additional 50 complaints regarding the settlement in California courts.

More on lawsuits: Twitter Caught Selling Data to Government Spies While Complaining About Surveillance