Google Chrome's Incognito mode may not be as private as you think

Shawn Knight

Posts: 12,617   +124
Staff member

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.

Permalink to story.

 

Kibaruk

Posts: 3,836   +1,183
Did we really need someone to tell us that by logging into an account while on incognito means that you can still be tracked?

I imagine next flash news to be something on this end... Logging into Facebook through Incognito doesn't hide the Facebook history!!
 

Evernessince

Posts: 5,434   +6,052
You would think incognito would block all cookies except for the single first party cookie required for the website you are currently on.

If incognito doesn't change the default cookie handling then it's pretty much worthless. Great, you don't have a browsing history but anyone half savvy can tell from your cookies where you've been.
 
  • Like
Reactions: wiyosaya

Kibaruk

Posts: 3,836   +1,183
You would think incognito would block all cookies except for the single first party cookie required for the website you are currently on.
I'm not an expert, but I assumed cookies are required for the browser to handle your session if you are logging into something. I could be wrong.
 

tipstir

Posts: 2,854   +199
You can be private online but a few extensions can make that happen. This mode here you speak of I never used it..
 

sgoodwin

Posts: 8   +1
Seriously. 'Incognito' is just so your wife doesn't know your looking at pron. If you're looking at kiddie porn or planning a terrorist act or watching Alex Jones videos, people will know about it.
 

Cyber Citizen

Posts: 6   +0
For private browsing, I use a different web browser entirely that doesn’t have any of cookies or other browsing data. I use Internet Explorer’s InPrivate mode for browsing in private and Edge for everything else. I have zero trust in Google when it comes to my personal information.
 

Kibaruk

Posts: 3,836   +1,183
You can be private online but a few extensions can make that happen. This mode here you speak of I never used it..
If you right click on Chrome or press CTRL+SHIFT+N it will take you to Incognito, on this mode the browser starts fresh without cookies or cache, and as soon as you close the session everything that was generated gets cleaned up, this means no history, no cookies, no cache. However, this doesn't mean you are connecting through a private internet connection.
For private browsing, I use a different web browser entirely that doesn’t have any of cookies or other browsing data. I use Internet Explorer’s InPrivate mode for browsing in private and Edge for everything else. I have zero trust in Google when it comes to my personal information.
Neither of them are the better hand =P