Google suddenly issues a surprising new warning to 2 billion Chrome users
Google has confirmed a new warning for Chrome’s two billion users, which will come as a surprise to many, even though it shouldn’t. But since this is about an important feature that’s not widely understood, it could change the way you use the browser.
One criticism that has been levied against Google Chrome concerns the extent of its incognito mode. This issue is what was behind the lawsuit and recent settlement announcement, which concerns whether Google will continue to track users even after they select Incognito mode.
Google has now prepared a new update to warn that Incognito Mode is not as private as many users think. Given its name and implications, this will likely come as a surprise to millions who choose private browsing and assume the best.
This isn’t unique to Chrome, of course. Private browsing is not all that its name might suggest, and that is not well understood anywhere. Although this protected browsing erases traces of your online activity on the device you’re using, it doesn’t protect you in the same way from the sites you visit online.
By visiting websites, you are still leaving yourself open to the trackers buried within them. It’s important to take other measures, such as blocking any tracking you can do, being careful where you log in or leave details, and if you’re really worried about your browsing being associated with you or your IP address, using a VPN.
Now, Google has updated the notification it provides to its users about Incognito Mode, at least in the pre-release version as discovered by MSPowerUser. Google will warn users that while Privacy Mode will protect users from others using the same device, it will not change how data is collected and used by the websites those users visit and the services they use, including Google.
The new warning explains that while “others using this device will not see your activity, so you can browse more privately, this will not change how data is collected by the websites you visit and services they use, including Google.”
Google confirmed the new warning in a statement: “We are pleased to resolve this situation, which we have long opposed, and provide more information to users about Incognito Mode. Chrome’s Incognito Mode will continue to give people the option to browse the Internet without saving their activity to their browser or device.”
This is a welcome change and Google should be applauded for its transparency, even if it is due to the lawsuit, settlement and subsequent fallout. The same explanation of what incognito mode does and doesn’t do is available here.
The warning is not yet present in the current version of Chrome, but it will likely arrive soon. It provides a more transparent description of what incognito mode is and isn’t, but it will also provide a contrast with other browsers that have put the default blocking of user tracking front and center in their proposal.
Apple asserts that Private Browsing in Safari, for example, “won’t remember the pages you visit, your search history, or your AutoFill information.” Private browsing also blocks known trackers, removes tracking used to identify individual users from URLs, and adds protection against advanced fingerprinting techniques.
Firefox offers similar tracking guarantees. “Private browsing does not save your browsing information, such as history and cookies, and leaves no trace after you end a session. By default, when you browse in private windows, you are protected from cookies and third-party content trackers… Enhanced protection prevents Tracking Hidden trackers can collect your data across multiple sites.
If Chrome’s success tells us anything, it’s that users have more freedom to track websites than more secure and private-minded people might assume. And Google should be applauded for starting to eliminate the nasty little cookies hidden behind web pages in Chrome, even if it took much longer than planned to do so.
If this is a sign of things to come — increasing transparency for fear of lawsuits or simply because it seems like the right thing to do given the push for transparency driven by the likes of Apple’s privacy labels and app tracking transparency — then it’s all good. We have also seen Android upping its game when it comes to privacy and tracking in recent updates.
The hope is that this will provide more open options for users, just as those moves by Apple have done in the world of apps. This includes still-hidden tracking that occurs in built-in browsers accessed via apps, such as Facebook and Instagram, which are not subject to the same restrictions as major browsers.
Obviously, we need to wait and see if this pre-warning of the Canary release reaches the world, which we will now do over the next few weeks. Meanwhile, if you are using Chrome, my advice is to enable incognito mode and choose to block third-party tracking as well. At least this way there is a better level of privacy.
In its defense of the lawsuit, Google claimed that this tracking context was understood and explained to users. The court did not take the same opinion. So we await the settlement proposal scheduled to be submitted sometime this month.
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(Tags for translation) Google Chrome warning