Google Chrome's Incognito Browsing Mode Finally Admits It Can Still Track You

hero chrome incognito mode tracks you2

It might not be nice, but it might just be fair to call anyone who uses Google Chrome's Incognito Mode and then expects real privacy a "rube," given that Google is a company that makes an incredible amount of money on selling other people's information. We're not saying that, though, and the reason is simply because Chrome didn't make it clear that "Incognito Mode" was about as useful as putting on a pair of Groucho glasses when making a trip to the adult novelty shop.

So let's be explicit about what "Incognito Mode" does: it disables Chrome's own functions for saving browsing data, and it doesn't allow sites to save cookies on your machine. That is basically it. In other words, it won't save passwords or autofill data, it won't record sites you visit to your browsing history, and it won't save logins or other information you enter on websites. That's all it does.

This isn't really news to tech-savvy users, but most people don't fall into that category. When they click that "Incognito Mode" button, a lot of people have an inflated expectation of what it is doing to protect their privacy. Chrome does present a disclaimer on the initial Incognito Mode screen, but that disclaimer didn't clarify that Google is still capable of tracking and recording every single site you visit—until now, anyway.

Indeed, in the latest Canary (read: nightly) builds of Chrome, the disclaimer has been changed, as spotted by MSPowerUser. Where the current disclaimer in stable and dev builds states that "you can browse privately, and other people who use this device won't see your activity", the new disclaimer is very explicit that "this won't change how data is collected by the websites you visit and the services they use, including Google." Indeed, while we called out Google above, the search giant is far from the only company tracking your movements across the web, and Incognito or 'private' modes in browsers generally do very little to diminish that.

So what prompted the change of heart? Probably the $5 billion dollar lawsuit over exactly this issue that the company has agreed to settle out of court. If anything can change a megacorporation's tune real fast, it's paying out millions or billions of dollars in legal fees. Of course, that does nothing to resolve the fact that the very money the company is using to settle the lawsuit probably originates from selling people's information, but what can you do?

Top image photo by Jason Eppink, used under CC-BY license.