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Judge demands answers from Google after learning “Incognito mode” doesn’t ensure privacy

The activity isn't recorded for you but it is for Google.

Google is being accused of engaging in misleading and deceitful behavior around the “incognito” mode found in Chrome, the giant’s product that firmly dominates the browser market.

In “incognito” mode, your browser will not remember you browsing history, etc, for you – but it sure will for Google.

The concern is that Google markets the feature by giving its users what’s ultimately a false impression that their privacy is enhanced when in “incognito” mode – that is, that Google is not scraping their browsing history and collecting this personal data for the purpose of making money off it through advertising and analytics.

A group of users who believe they have been deceived in this way have filed a class action lawsuit in California, seeking $5,000 in damages for millions who’ve used the feature, described as “a ruse,” since it was introduced in 2016, and the judge in charge, Lucy Koh, said she was “disturbed” that the filing revealed Google was still tracking and collecting data even when people are browsing “incognito.”

We obtained a copy of the lawsuit for you here.

Now Koh, US District Judge in San Jose who is considering Google’s bid to get the lawsuit dismissed, wants to know what the company is doing with the data it collects in this way. Why go to the trouble of harvesting this data in the first place unless the goal is to create user profiles, that then become the heart of Google’s trillion dollar business once they are sold to the highest (advertising) bidder.

This question becomes all the more pertinent since Google lawyer Andrew Schapiro, trying to get the case dismissed, said the giant is “expressly” forthright with its privacy rules.

Amanda Bonn, who represents the plaintiffs, explained to the judge that Google “makes it seem like private browsing mode gives users more control of their data.”

But in fact, the lawyer went on, Google is telling its users “there’s basically very little you can do to prevent us from collecting your data, and that’s what you should assume we’re doing.”

When you launch a Chrome “incognito” window, Google will tell you that Chrome won’t save your browsing history, cookies and site data, etc. But even if Chrome won’t save this information for you – Google will have access to it, which is not expressly explained on the page. Instead, it lists “websites you visit, your employer or school, your internet service provider,” as those who “might still see your activity even in ‘incognito’.”

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