< Google to Destroy Billions of Personal Data Files as Part of Legal Settlement
By Bryan Lynn
03 April 2024

Google has agreed to destroy billions of personal data records to settle a lawsuit that accused the company of secretly following users' internet activity.

The lawsuit was considered a class-action. This means the case was brought by an individual or small group, but with many others wanting to be part of the action.

Lawyers first announced the settlement agreement in December. But details were not released until recently.

This file photo shows a Google building in New York, Feb. 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
This file photo shows a Google building in New York, Feb. 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

The case covered millions of people who used Google's internet browser Chrome beginning June 1, 2016. Google is accused of continuing to follow Chrome users' internet activity even when they were browsing under a privacy setting called "incognito."

Users accused Google of misleading them into believing their internet activity would not be recorded while they browsed in "incognito." The users argued Google's advertising system continued to collect data on users' web movements while Chrome was set to "incognito."

Google strongly fought the accusations. It had requested a dismissal of the case, but the request was denied. The settlement terms were negotiated over a four-month period. The deal must still receive final approval from a federal judge during a hearing set for July 30 in Oakland, California.

The settlement requires Google to destroy billions of personal records stored in its data centers. It also orders the company to provide more guidance about its privacy policies for people using Chrome. And it calls for tools to limit Google's collection of personal data.

Individuals represented in the class-action lawsuit will not receive any damages or other payments as part of the settlement. But the deal does not prevent individual users from pushing their own civil cases against the company in U.S. state courts.

In a statement, Google said it was "pleased to settle this lawsuit." Lawyers representing the Chrome users described the settlement as a major win for personal privacy in a world with ever-increasing levels of digital surveillance.

Lawyers in the case valued the settlement at $4.75 billion to $7.8 billion. They explained they arrived at that number based mainly on what possible ad sales linked to the personal data collected might have earned without new restrictions.

Austin Chambers is a lawyer who specializes in data privacy issues at Dorsey & Whitney. He told The Associated Press that he sees the settlement as a "welcome development." He said it could affect the way personal information is collected online in the future.

Chambers said, "This prevents companies from profiting off of that data, and also requires them to undertake complex and costly data deletion efforts."

Google still faces legal threats linked to other issues. Legal experts say those threats could end up having a much bigger effect on its advertising-based businesses.

One of those cases argues that Google is abusing its influence in internet advertising to limit competition. Closing arguments are set to be begin in that case on May 1.

Google is also facing possible changes to its app store after an American jury found the store operates as an illegal monopoly. A hearing examining possible changes Google must make is set to begin in late May.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from The Associated Press, Reuters and Google.

Words in This Story

lawsuit – n. a legal complaint against someone that does not usually involve the police

browser – n. a computer program that permits you to look at pages on the internet

surveillance – n. the activity of watching something or someone carefully

undertake – v. to start work on something

delete – v. to remove, especially data from a computer

monopoly – n. complete control of the entire supply of goods or of a service in a certain area or market

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