Is Incognito Mode on Chrome Truly Private?

Have you ever wondered if your privacy is at risk while browsing in incognito mode? If you feel like a secret agent when googling disease symptoms or other silly questions, you should think twice before trusting the spy guy icon again.
Apparently, incognito mode isn’t as private as we were led to believe. Not only does it allow internet providers to view your history, but it also leaves your IP address and identity information on display.

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Illustration: Milica Mijajlovic

Till the present day, Google has been involved in numerous controversies regarding privacy, advertising, and copyright infringement issues. From the Republican National Committee suing Google for treating politicians’ messages as spam to government bodies digging into Google’s policies. This company always has its hands full of lawsuits.  

As Google’s trouble with the law never ends, here’s another pending lawsuit against Google that might get your attention. The latest case against this tech giant alleges that the company’s “Incognito mode” on Chrome doesn’t protect user privacy.  

These accusations pose a critical question: Who is evading our privacy, and can we search the internet safely?  

Let’s find out together. 

Google’s Incognito Mode Isn’t as Incognito as It’s Supposed to Be 

Incognito mode on the Google Chrome browser is a privacy tool. It ensures your passwords and browsing history aren’t saved on your device. This tool can come in handy when using a shared computer, but it has many limitations.  

Many Chrome users rely on Incognito mode daily, hoping it can protect their privacy. That is because the Incognito mode doesn’t save search results, allowing users to google information they’re too embarrassed to ask.  


Photo illustration: Freepik

The Incognito mode prevents your device from recording what you do. Still, it can’t stop websites and internet providers from viewing your activity, location, or personal information. 

The Truth About Incognito Mode 

Google’s help page showcases that this tech giant is transparent about what its Incognito feature can or can’t do. For example, it states that, while using the Incognito mode, Chrome doesn’t save user browsing history, cookies, website data, permissions users give to websites, or information entered in forms.  

It further explains that user activity and location might still be visible in Incognito mode. Incognito mode doesn’t hide IP addresses or identity information. However, this happens only if a user signs in to a web service via Incognito.  

That said, Google users tend to overestimate Incognito’s ability to guarantee privacy protections. As Google boasts that Incognito keeps browsing private but fails to ensure ultimate privacy, it’s questionable whether this tech giant can continue to falsely advertise Incognito mode.  


Photo illustration: Freepik

However, this critical flaw in Google’s marketing of its Incognito mode wasn’t left unnoticed. A California judge is currently debating whether to approve the continuation of a class-action lawsuit against this tech giant.

According to the United States District Court documents, first filed in March 2021, plaintiffs seek to represent two classes, including “All individuals with a Google account who accessed a website containing Google Analytics or Ad Manager using any non-Android device and who were (a) in “private browsing mode” in that device’s browser, and (b) were not logged into their Google account on that device’s browser, but whose communications, including identifying information and online browsing history, Google nevertheless intercepted, received, or collected from June 1, 2016, through the present.”  

If the plaintiffs get the judge’s approval, the lawsuit could result in a multi-billion dollar fine. Although Google’s annual revenue amounted to 256.74 billion dollars in 2021, losing billions is never a good sign. The potential loss will undoubtedly further shake Google’s reputation.  


Source: Statista

Leaked Emails Confirm Incognito Mode Doesn’t Guarantee Privacy Protection 

According to the court documents from the pending trial, Google Marketing Chief Lorraine Twohill emailed CEO Sundar Pichai in 2019 her concerns regarding Google’s Incognito mode and the use of misleading language when describing this popular feature. 

-We are limited in how strongly we can market Incognito because it’s not truly private, thus requiring really fuzzy, hedging language that is almost more damaging – Lorraine Twohill said. 

Apparently, this isn’t the only email exchange that exposed Google. According to the Washington Post, lawyers behind the lawsuit have gathered a collection of emails confirming that Google’s executives understand the problem with Google advertising Incognito as a “private” browser mode.  

Despite millions of users expressing concerns regarding the Incognito feature, Google has tried to sweep these accusations under the rug. 

“Incognito mode offers users a private browsing experience, and we’ve been clear about how it works and what it does, whereas the plaintiffs, in this case, have purposely mischaracterized our statements” a Google spokesperson said in an email to Gizmodo

Incognito Mode Inspires Staff Jokes 

Google’s current Incognito launch screen informs users they can browse privately with this feature, and those other people using the device won’t be able to see their activity.  

It also tells users that Chrome won’t save any of the following information: 

  • Your browsing history 
  • Cookies and site data 
  • Information entered in forms 

However, the Incognito launch page warns users that their activity might be visible to employers, internet service providers, and websites.  


Photo illustration: Freepik

So, how can Google refer to Incognito as a “private browsing” feature when it doesn’t even guarantee ultimate privacy? 

Even some Google employees joked that Incognito isn’t the epitome of private browsing. According to Futurism, a Chrome engineer wrote in a colleague group chat that “we need to stop calling it Incognito and stop using a Spy Guy icon,” referring to Incognito’s famous icon. 

“Another engineer responded by linking to a wiki page of a character on “The Simpsons” called Guy Incognito, who looks exactly like Homer Simpson — if he was dressed in a bad disguise.” Writes Frank Landymore for Futurism.  

So, not only do Google employees understand the consequences of using Incognito, but they also mock the feature. Unless the court decides to entertain the accusations against Google, the company will likely continue to promote Incognito as a private browsing feature, regardless of what its staff or users say about it.  

Jelena is a content writer dedicated to learning about all things crypto. Her hobbies are playing chess, drawing, baking, and going on long walks. During winter, she usually spends her leisure time reading books.

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