Home Tech The Incognito Mode Myth Has Fully Unraveled

The Incognito Mode Myth Has Fully Unraveled

by Elijah
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The Incognito Mode Myth Has Fully Unraveled

If you still feel that Google Chrome’s “incognito mode” is a good way to protect your privacy online, now is a good time to stop.

Google has agreed to delete “billions of data records” that the company collected while users browsed the web in incognito mode. documents filed in federal court Monday in San Francisco. The agreement, part of a settlement in a class action lawsuit filed in 2020, caps years of revelations about Google’s practices that shed light on the amount of data the tech giant siphons from its users — even when they are in the private browsing mode.

Under the terms of the settlement, Google must further update the incognito mode “splash page” that appears when you open a Chrome window in incognito mode after you updated it earlier in January. The incognito splash page explicitly states that Google collects data from third-party websites “regardless of what browser or browser mode you use,” and states that “third-party sites and apps that integrate our services may still share information with Google.” among other changes. Details about Google’s collection of private browsing data should also be disclosed in the company’s privacy policy.

In addition, some of the data that Google previously collected about incognito users will be deleted. This includes “private browsing data” that is “older than nine months” from the date Google signed the settlement term sheet last December, as well as private browsing data collected as of December 2023. However, certain documents in the case that reference Google’s data collection methods remain sealed, making it difficult to assess how thorough the takedown process will be.

Google spokesperson Jose Castaneda said in a statement that the company is “pleased to remove old technical data that has never been associated with an individual and never used for any form of personalization.” Castaneda also noted that the company will now pay “zero” dollars as part of the settlement, after previously being fined $5 billion.

Other steps Google must take include continuing to “block third-party cookies in incognito mode for five years,” partially redacting IP addresses to prevent re-identification of anonymized user data, and removing certain header information that can currently be used to identify users. while incognito mode is active.

The data deletion portion of the settlement agreement follows preemptive changes to Google’s Incognito Mode data collection and how it describes what Incognito Mode does. For almost four years, Google has been phasing out third-party cookies that the company has been using say it plans to completely block by the end of 2024. Google also updated Chrome’s Incognito mode “splash page” in January with weaker language to indicate that using Incognito is not “private,” just “more private” than not using it.

The settlement is strictly an “injunctive relief,” meaning its central purpose is to put an end to Google’s activities that plaintiffs say are unlawful. The settlement does not preclude future claims.The Wall Street Journal reports that plaintiffs’ attorneys had filed at least 50 such lawsuits in California as of Monday — though plaintiffs note that financial relief in privacy cases is much harder to come by. The most important thing, the plaintiffs’ attorneys argue, is that changes are being made now at Google that will provide the greatest, immediate benefit to the greatest number of users.

Critics of Incognito, a staple of the Chrome browser since 2008, say the protection it offers falls apart at best in the face of the sophisticated commercial surveillance that plagues most users today; At worst, they say, the feature gives people a false sense of security, allowing companies like Google to passively monitor millions of users who have been tricked into thinking they are just browsing.

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