Attention, Chrome users: Google’s recent incognito mode update clarifies its limitations and what it actually means (and doesn’t mean) for your online privacy.

At-a-Glance: Google and external websites can still gather your data when using the web browser’s semi-private mode. In other words: “Incognito” isn’t as incognito as it sounds. 

What’s Changed?

Here’s what it says word-for-word when you open an incognito window:

“You’ve gone Incognito. Others who use this device won’t see your activity, so you can browse more privately. This won’t change how data is collected by websites you visit and the services they use, including Google.“

Previously, Incognito mode primarily emphasized “browsing privately” without specifying who from. The new wording clarifies that it primarily protects your activity from other users on the same device, not the websites you visit. This means your spouse, roommate, or anyone on a public computer won’t see your browsing history (unless they use special techniques).

What Doesn’t Change?

The key takeaway is that the Incognito mode update does not make you invisible to websites. They can still track your activity, collect data, and identify you, just like in regular browsing. Google itself highlights this in the updated message.

Understanding the Limitations of Incognito Mode: What It Doesn’t Do

While Incognito mode offers some benefits, it’s crucial to understand its limitations when it comes to online privacy.

Here’s a deeper dive into what happens when you activate Incognito:

Websites Can Still Track You:

  • Cookies and Fingerprinting: Websites can still utilize cookies and browser fingerprinting techniques to identify and track your activity. Cookies are small data files stored on your device, while fingerprinting gathers unique information about your device configuration and browsing patterns. Even without traditional identifiers like usernames, websites can build profiles based on these collected data points.
  • Third-Party Trackers: Many websites embed third-party trackers, invisible scripts that collect data across various sites. These trackers can build comprehensive profiles of your online behavior, regardless of whether you’re in Incognito mode.
  • Search Engines and Services: Even if you use Google Search in Incognito, your search queries and associated data might still be collected and linked to your account, especially if you’re signed in to other Google services. This practice applies to other platforms with similar integrated services.
  • Internet Service Providers (ISPs): Your ISP can still see your overall internet activity, including visits to websites in Incognito mode. They might track and sell anonymized data or be compelled to share it with authorities under certain circumstances.
  • Downloads and Bookmarks: While your browsing history isn’t stored locally, any downloads or bookmarks made in Incognito mode are saved on your device. Someone with access to your device can see these saved items.
  • Public Wi-Fi Networks: Using Incognito mode doesn’t encrypt your internet traffic. On public Wi-Fi networks, your activity might be vulnerable to eavesdropping by hackers or network administrators.

Basically, what you need to know is that Incognito isn’t a tool for complete online anonymity. Websites and online services still have various ways to track you and collect your data, even in Incognito mode.

What Google's Incognito Mode Update Means for Your Online Privacy

Why the Update?

This shift likely stems from a class-action lawsuit against Google alleging Incognito mode wasn’t truly private. The judge ruled that Google hadn’t adequately informed users about continued data collection in Incognito mode.

A Deeper Dive into The Lawsuit Against Google’s Incognito Mode

The Accusation:

A class-action lawsuit filed in 2020 accused Google of misleading users about Incognito mode. Plaintiffs claimed that Google continued to “track, collect, and identify browsing data” even when users were in Incognito mode. This contradicted the message suggesting private browsing, leading to accusations of violating privacy laws.

The Key Point:

The main issue wasn’t that Google collected data itself, but that it didn’t disclose this practice clearly to users within Incognito mode. The judge agreed, arguing that Google hadn’t properly informed users about ongoing data collection, potentially deceiving them about the mode’s privacy capabilities.

The Settlement:

While the details remain undisclosed, Google settled the lawsuit in January 2024 for a reported $5 billion. This suggests they acknowledged the need to address user concerns about data collection and transparency in Incognito mode.

The Impact:

  1. Updated Wording: Google’s recent changes in Incognito mode wording likely stem from this lawsuit. The new message now explicitly states that websites can still track you, addressing the core complaint of the lawsuit.
  2. Increased Scrutiny: This case highlights the growing focus on user privacy and the need for companies to be transparent about data collection practices, especially in sensitive tools like Incognito mode.

So. In light of this new information from the Incognito mode update, what can you do to make sure your privacy is being protected online?

What Can You Do to Keep Your Browsing More Private?

While the Incognito mode update offers limited privacy from local snoops, here are some tips for better online protection:

  • Block third-party cookies: This setting in your browser helps prevent websites from tracking you across different sites.
  • Use a VPN: A Virtual Private Network encrypts your internet traffic, making it harder for others to track your activity.
  • Consider privacy-focused browsers: Browsers like DuckDuckGo and Brave prioritize user privacy with stricter tracking prevention measures.

Remember: Incognito mode is a useful tool for local privacy, but it’s not an invisibility cloak. Be mindful of online tracking and take active steps to protect your privacy when browsing the web.

Feeling exposed online? Don’t settle for limited privacy tools. At D-Kode Technology, we help businesses and individuals build a strong online presence while safeguarding their privacy.

  • Website development: We design secure and privacy-conscious websites that prioritize user privacy from the ground up.
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  • Privacy consultations: Our experts can assess your online vulnerabilities and recommend tailored solutions to enhance your privacy protection.

Take control of your online privacy. Contact D-Kode Technology today for a free consultation!