Google acknowledges that Chrome’s incognito mode tracks users

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Google acknowledges that Chrome's incognito mode tracks users

Google acknowledges that Chrome’s incognito mode tracks users

Google Chrome’s incognito mode tab has always been used by users as a way to avoid Google tracking. However, Google has recently confirmed that in the “incognito” mode browsing tab collects the same data and tracks users in the same way as if they were browsing from a normal tab.

In June 2020, a class action lawsuit was filed against Google in California federal court, stating that the Ad Manager and Google Analytics tools, among other applications, collected user data through Google Chrome, even when “incognito” browsing mode was enabled.

They claimed that this action was a violation of privacy laws, for which they sought damages of $5,000 per affected user since 2016. Before the case was settled, Google decided to settle out of court with those affected and, last December 2023, ended up paying a fine of 5 billion dollars.

Google’s solution

Although no investigation was carried out, the only thing Google stated is that “clearly that every time you open a new tab in “incognito” mode, websites can collect information about your activity“, and after what happened, it has been found that they have published a new version with a modification: they have added a disclaimer from the company.

In this new version, it is literally stated that “other people using this device will not see your activity […]. This will not change how the websites you visit and the services they use, including Google, collect data. Downloads, bookmarks and reading list items will be saved.

Google has pledged to continue to make changes to “incognito” mode to avoid potential user confusion in the future, such as detailing exactly what information is not stored in the browser, and what user data is obtained by the websites you visit.

Therefore, the solution Google has sought is to specify how Google Chrome actually works in incognito mode and to openly inform that users can indeed be tracked by the websites they visit, even if they browse in “incognito” mode, so that it will not be reported again for violating users’ privacy rules.

How does this affect users?

It is important to make users aware that personal information collected on the Internet is of great value, as many marketing companies seek to obtain this data in order to include it in spam lists, segment users and thus send personalized advertising, or even sell it to third parties. This common practice poses a risk to users’ privacy, as sensitive information can be compromised.

Users should be aware of how the “incognito” mode actually works and use it for the purposes for which it was created. Specifically, they should be aware that Google will save browsing data in both modes, that websites can track the use and storage of user data in the same way, that the Internet company and/or the owners of the Wi-Fi network to which the user is connected can know where the user is browsing, and all files downloaded will be saved on the device.

In contrast, in “incognito” mode, Google Chrome will not save browsing history on the device, nor information entered in forms, and cookies and data information collected will not be recorded on the device.

Therefore, there is not much difference between browsing in “incognito” mode and without it, beyond the fact that the websites visited on the device in question are recorded, but the trace left by the Internet will be the same in both modes.

In conclusion, what should be highlighted from this event is that in reality the Chrome’s “incognito” mode does not protect users from Internet tracking, but is actually designed to protect users who share the same device, since even in this mode cookies are still read and recorded, so that the user can still be tracked.

Users should be made aware of the actual use of this mode which works so that cookies are not saved, so that, for example, accounts or passwords entered on websites are not recorded; it works to hide browsing history; using navigation will be less personalized (because tracking will be more difficult, it will not be impossible), as fewer ads and personalized suggestions will be displayed; it will maintain privacy for those who share devices.

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