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September 3, 2008updated 19 Aug 2016 10:07am

How secret is Google Chrome’s ‘incognito’ mode?

Google has made much of the fact that its Google Chrome browser features an 'incognito' browsing mode that it says means, "Webpages that you open and files downloaded while you are incognito won't be logged in your browsing and download histories; all new cookies are deleted after you close the incognito window." But how secret is the incognito mode?


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Is incognito safer than using something like the popular Anonymizer tool, which features anonymous surfing technology to remove all cookies, cached files, and history archives from your web session?

The trouble with Google Chrome’s incognito mode is actually down at least in part to Google’s own desire to store information about users’ surfing habits – it uses this kind of information not only to improve its own searching algorithms but also sell more targeted advertising opportunities to advertisers.

So it seems that if you sign into your Google Account on while in incognito mode, your subsequent web searches are recorded in your Google Web History. That might not seem so bad, except that it may be that more than one person in your household shares a single Google Account, potentially making your web surfing rather less than ‘incognito’.

Google suggests a workaround for this eventuality – you can temporarily pause your Google Web History tracking. This may be fine for occasional use, but is likely to become irritating if you also want to keep other browsing sessions stored in your Google Account.

Regardless of this potential failing, users should remember that Google Chrome’s incognito mode only keeps Google Chrome from storing information about the websites that you have visited. The websites you visit may still have records of your visit, and any files saved to your computer will still remain on your computer.

Moreover, remember that ISPs can and do store information about your surfing habits, which could make that ‘incognito’ surfing session on Google Chrome a little less incognito than you might think. At least three British ISPs for instance agreed to hand over users’ surfing data with Phorm, a company set up to then try and serve you more targeted advertising based on your surfing habits.

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Observers have questioned the privacy issues in this kind of situation already, but suffice to say, there are those who know what sites you visit, whether Google Chrome remembers your surfing history or not.

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