Google cops to what we all knew anyway—it’s tracking everything you do in Incognito mode

Late last year Google settled a class-action lawsuit that began in 2020, which accused the internet behemoth of invading the privacy of millions of users by tracking their activity even when Chrome’s Incognito mode was activated. As part of the settlement Google has now updated the description of Incognito in Chrome to something… well, basically something closer to the truth.

The latest build of Chrome out for testing, codenamed Canary, has now changed the text that appears when you first boot an Incognito tab. The old version (which at the time of writing is still the text I’m getting) reads: 

“Now you can browse privately, and other people who use this device won’t see your activity. However, downloads, bookmarks and reading list items will be saved.”

It then links to a fuller explanation and lists a few bullet points about what Chrome does and doesn’t track.

This text on a new Incognito session now reads:

“Others who use this device won’t see your activity, so you can browse more privately. This won’t change how data is collected by websites you visit and the services they use, including Google. Downloads, bookmarks and reading list items will be saved.”

Fairly notable there is the addition of “including Google”, making the obvious even more obvious, and particularly the change from “browse privately” (old) to “browse more privately” (new). The bullet points remain as they were.

The change is part of a settlement that is yet to be made public: it’ll be presented to the court in late January and if all is well approved by February. And it’s probably down to the fact that, when Google was trying in vain to get the suit dismissed, it cited the older text as proof it was appropriately informing users about what Incognito mode did. The judge did not agree.

Google spokesperson José Castañeda told The Verge it’s “pleased to resolve this case which we’ve long disputed” and of course puts a positive spin on Chrome now offering “even more information to users about Incognito Mode.”

Your mileage may differ, and it did for the plaintiffs in this case, but it was always obvious to me that Incognito mode is a limited form of privacy that’s basically about hiding what you’ve been looking at from other users of the same device. I was never under the impression that Incognito was any kind of private browser, free from the myriad data-tracking tentacles of big tech, but one can see how some users may have mistakenly ended up with that impression. Well, enjoy your next Incognito session. Just remember that Big Brother is watching.

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