A recent class-action lawsuit has thrust Google Chrome’s incognito mode into the spotlight, alleging that Google continues to track users even when they’re browsing incognito. While complete privacy on the internet is a myth, it appears that Google’s incognito mode doesn’t deliver on its promise. Let’s explore the truth behind it.
What Does Google Track?
When you open incognito mode in Chrome, you’re greeted with a screen featuring a spy-like icon and the text “Now you can browse privately.” However, it turns out that Google can still track your browsing activities, rendering incognito mode ineffective. In fact, even Google employees have joked about renaming it. One employee suggested dropping the spy icon, comparing it to Homer Simpson’s disguise in a cartoon episode.
Tracking by ISPs and Employers
It’s not just Google that can see what you’re doing in incognito mode. Your internet service provider (ISP) and your employer can also monitor your online activities. ISPs have been known to collect and sell user data, including browsing habits and sensitive information, to third parties. As for employers, if you’re using your workplace Wi-Fi, your boss can potentially track everything you do on your personal phone, including logging keystrokes and obtaining social media passwords.
Cookie Deletion and Fingerprinting
Incognito mode in Chrome deletes any cookies installed during your browsing session, but it doesn’t prevent sites from tracking you. Instead, websites are increasingly using browser fingerprinting to identify and track users. This method combines various unique identifiers, like your browser, computer, ISP, location, and logged-in social media accounts, to build a profile about you. Unfortunately, Chrome’s incognito mode offers no defense against fingerprinting, rendering it practically useless.
Despite lawsuits and public discontent, Google maintains that incognito mode provides a private browsing experience. However, the company’s explanation might seem vague and misleading to many users. A few lines about blocking cookies and spy-themed imagery don’t paint the full picture.
Browsers with Better Privacy
Chrome isn’t the only browser with limited privacy protections. Microsoft Edge’s InPrivate mode and Apple Safari’s Private Window offer similar levels of privacy, with caveats. Firefox’s Privacy Mode goes a step further by actively blocking trackers and fingerprinting through Enhanced Tracking Protection. Brave is another secure browser that prioritizes privacy and blocks trackers.
How to Enhance Your Online Privacy
While complete anonymity is impossible, you can take steps to limit what others can see. Start by using a secure browser that prioritizes privacy. Firefox, Brave, and DuckDuckGo are good options. Additionally, consider using a reputable VPN service that offers no-logging, encryption, and a wide range of server locations. Free VPNs may not guarantee your privacy, so it’s worth investing in a reliable paid VPN.
Remember, relying solely on incognito mode for privacy is not enough. As Google continues to find ways to track users, it’s crucial to take proactive measures to safeguard your browsing activities.