Google Chrome users can hide their browsing history from other users on the same device, but they are not protected from Google itself and the websites they visit using this feature.
While the company is facing a $5 billion lawsuit over this issue, plus the fact that even Google’s head of marketing is aware of the issue, Chrome’s Incognito Window isn’t as private as it sounds.
According to Bloomberg, Lorraine Twohill, Google’s head of marketing, wrote an email to Sundar Pichai, the company’s CEO, asking him to “make Incognito really private.” This was done because of the shortcomings in the feature and Twohill is blunt in saying that the company is forced to use “fuzzy and covert language”, which can affect users’ trust in the company’s services.
Other records made public thanks to the lawsuits show Google employees criticizing the name and use of the “Spy Guy” icon as early as 2018. The same official provided a study that revealed that 56.3% of 460 users thought that Incognito mode would keep your information private.
According to court documents, Google also argues that users gave their consent every time they used the service, even though incognito mode does not provide complete protection. Bloomberg also uncovered court documents that show other employees agreed with Twohill’s opinion.
Earlier, an engineer stated, “We need to stop calling him Anonymous and stop using a Spy icon.” According to the engineer, publicly available research shows that users were not fully aware of how the feature worked. Another worker responded by adding a character from The Simpsons. Looks like Homer Simpson. The official claimed that the character’s action “accurately conveys the level of privacy that [a Janela Anônima] provides”.
For now, we can only wait to find out if Google will actually improve the tool or if they just intend to change its name to better target users.