Thinking of browsing in private mode in Incognito mode? Google employees are laughing at you

We have all accepted our lot in life. Internet use is usually free once access is granted. Yes, we now understand that we’re paying with our data, but that sounds like fair trade to most. In an ideal world, our data wouldn’t be harvested, but hey, it’s better than spending cash.

The deal is that we use services like Google Search, Gmail, and even the Chrome browser for free, while Google sells the data they collect about us to advertisers.

We agreed to the above, but there are times when we want some privacy. There are some embarrassing things we’d rather Google didn’t track and share with advertisers. It could be a medical issue or some random item that you care about but don’t want to be associated with forever.

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Google recognizes this and offers an Incognito mode on its Chrome browser. You activate it either by tapping the three-dot menu in the upper-right corner and selecting “New incognito window” or by pressing Ctrl+Shift+N.

Chrome will tell you that you went incognito. The private browsing window is in dark mode and a spy icon will reassure you that you are browsing safely. You can then send your sensitive requests.

The incognito is not what it seems

Sounds good, except Google was sued for misleading people about the privacy of Incognito browsing sessions. The lawsuit claims they are not really private at all saying that in reality Google is deceptively collecting an array of personal data even when a user has engaged Incognito mode.

Of course, Google says they’ve been upfront about what Incognito mode is and isn’t.

To be fair to them, they clearly explain what Incognito is: none of your browsing history, cookies and site data, or information entered into forms are saved on your device.

What it isn’t: It won’t stop you from telling a website who you are, or prevent your activity or location from being seen by websites you visit, your IT admin, or even your ISP . It also won’t prevent the websites you visit from showing ads based on your activity during an incognito session.

The lawsuit against them says the average person doesn’t understand the nuances. This is backed up by research that shows users misunderstand the features of incognito modes.

Google employees joke about Incognito

Some internal google messages on Incognito have been unearthed by Bloomberg and they don’t look good. The first is an email that the head of marketing sent to the CEO.

That was the whole point, “make Incognito mode really private. We’re limited in how hard we can market Incognito because it’s not really private, which requires really blurry and cover language which is almost detrimental .

It also seems to be a joke among Google engineers. In a chat, an engineer candidly wrote, “We need to stop calling it Incognito and stop using a Spy Guy icon.” To which another responded by saying that the icon should be of guy incognitoa Simpsons character who “accurately conveys the level of privacy he offers”.

Engineers think Incognito is a joke and you thought you were unplugged from the Matrix when you turned it on.

Even more Google employees implored their bosses to change the language used by customers on Incognito. A product manager suggested that the launch screen say “You are NOT protected from Google” instead of “You are protected from other people using this device”. This was rejected by the leaders, as one would expect.

If there’s anything to take away from these emails and text messages, it’s that Google employees know that Incognito is anything but Incognito. Courts will have to decide whether Google is liable to pay users for misleading them about what Incognito is, even though they clearly believe they communicated its limitations.

Now we know

We all know that Incognito mode is not an alternative to Tor. Personally, I use it when I don’t want to have to delete the search query from my browsing history. Or when I want to watch videos on YouTube that I don’t want to factor into my recommendations after the fact.

Thus, Incognito is not without utility. All we need to remember is that this is not a spy-grade tool for disconnecting from the matrix.

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