Google Is Deleting The Search Data Of Millions Of Users Who Used Incognito Mode

Or are they? Yes, it does sound too good to be true, but better than absolutely nothing.

Google will erase the private browsing history of millions of individuals who used “incognito” mode in its Chrome browser as part of a settlement filed in federal court on Monday, April 1, 2024, in a case concerning the company’s covert tracking of web activity. Yes, only users who used the Chrome browser. Wow. Previously, Google had simply notified users that “you’ve gone incognito” and “now you can browse privately” when the supposedly untraceable browsing option was activated—without disclosing the data the company had been collecting.

However, according to a 2020 class-action lawsuit, the tech giant continued to collect searches by gathering data about users who browsed the internet in incognito mode through advertising tools employed by websites, capturing “potentially embarrassing” searches of numerous individuals. Google then used this data to analyze web traffic and market ads. Lawyer Mark Mao and other plaintiffs’ attorneys who sued the company wrote, “Google has made itself an unaccountable trove of information so detailed and expansive that George Orwell could never have dreamed it.” That’s deep.

While the lawsuit was ongoing, Google modified the incognito mode splash screen to indicate that websites, employers, schools, and internet service providers could monitor browsing activity in incognito mode. However, as part of the agreement, Google will have to disclose that the company itself can also track browsing during incognito mode. Furthermore, when users are in incognito mode, Google will automatically prevent third-party companies from tracking individuals’ cookies, which is how advertisers obtain information about a person’s search history.

According to a statement from Google spokesperson José Castañeda, the company is “happy to delete old technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalization.” Castañeda highlighted that despite the $5 billion damages sought in the lawsuit, Google will not be required to make any payment as part of the settlement proposal.

Employees of Google even complained to management about incognito mode.

A Google engineer in 2018 sent this to co-workers of his: “We need to stop calling it incognito and stop using a Spy Guy icon.” A different Google staff member suggested altering the incognito splash page to display the message: “You are NOT protected from Google.”

I have always said it: “‘Private’ mode isn’t to hide things from your ISP (Internet Service Provider) or anyone online, it’s to hide things from your spouse.” You get what I mean here, though.