Did you know Google was tracking you in Incognito mode?


Despite a settlement, Google still has tracking power

If you’ve used Google Chrome’s “Incognito” mode anytime in the past several years and feared that the company was tracking your in-the-shadows web browsing, you can breathe a sigh of relief.

As part of a settlement filed in federal court – one originally filed over Google’s secret tracking of a person’s web activity – the company will erase the private browsing history of anyone who used "incognito" mode. 

The general feeling among consumers is that when they saw things like “Now you can browse privately” and “You’ve gone Incognito,” they were safe from prying eyes. But, supposedly, an untraceable browsing option was turned on and Google had a field day gathering data, but failed to tell users exactly what data it was jotting down. And it then took a left turn and used that data to measure web traffic and sell ads.

“Through its pervasive data tracking business, Google knows who your friends are, what your hobbies are, what you like to eat, what movies you watch, where and when you like to shop, what your favorite vacation destinations are, what your favorite color is and even the most intimate and potentially embarrassing things you browse on the internet—regardless of whether you follow Google’s advice to keep your activities ‘private,’” plaintiffs claimed in their original lawsuit.  

“Notwithstanding consumers’ best efforts to keep their activities on the internet private, Google has made itself an unaccountable trove of information so detailed and expansive that George Orwell could never have dreamed it.”

Google claims the lawsuit was meritless to begin with and that it never associated data with users when they use Incognito mode. In a statement, a Google spokesperson said, “We are happy to delete old technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalization.”

What you can expect from Incognito mode now

Now, by default, Google is supposed to prevent third parties from tracking people's cookies when you use Incognito mode. Cookies allow advertisers to obtain information about people's search history.

Until the judge signs off on the settlement, Google has modified the verbiage in Incognito mode to warn consumers that they’re not completely out of the woods, yet. The company’s updated language says, “Your activity might still be visible to: websites you visit; your employer or school; your internet service provider.”

If you read between the lines there, you’ll see that Google was able to leave the door ajar for its own benefit – one that may make you wonder why there’s a settlement in the first place.

Now, under the proposed deal, Google will have to prominently disclose on the Incognito Splash Screen, that Incognito Mode “won’t change how data is collected by websites you visit and the services they use, including Google.” 

That means if you visit ABCSite.com and that website owner uses Google services, it can share any information it collects about you back with Google. 

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