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Most users have a reasonable expectation of privacy when surfing the web in Chrome’s Incognito mode but according to a new study commissioned by the trade organization Digital Content Next, that may not necessarily be the case.
Douglas Schmidt, a computer science professor at Vanderbilt University and author of the study, outlines the process by which Google could, in theory, link a user’s browsing while in Incognito mode to their identity using cookies if the user logs into a Google service like Gmail.
This allows Google to connect the user’s Google credentials with a DoubleClick cookie ID. Therefore, if the users do not clear browser cookies regularly, their browsing information on 3rd-party webpages that use DoubleClick services could get associated with their personal information on Google Account.
If the user exits Incognito mode before signing into a Google account, the tracking data would be erased.
The report doesn't specifically say Google is guilty of doing so but suggests it technically could. Google, however, is quick to shoot down the claims.
In an e-mail to AdAge, a Google spokesperson does not link signed-out activity with a user’s Google account information. “We do not associate incognito browsing with accounts you may log into after you've exited your Incognito session. And our ads systems have no special knowledge of when Chrome is in incognito mode, or any other browser in a similar mode (ex: Safari Private Browsing, Firefox Private Browsing). We simply set and read cookies as allowed by the browser.”
The spokesperson added that the report was commissioned by a professional DC lobbyist group and written by a witness for Oracle in their ongoing litigation with Google. “So, it's no surprise that it contains wildly misleading information.”
It kind of goes without saying that it wouldn’t be a bright idea to log into a personally identifiable Google account while in an Incognito session. The whole point of going Incognito for most users is to hide their tracks / keep others from seeing what they’re looking at online. Logging into a personal account during such a session just seems like a common sense no-no.