Human resources had to intervene when employees started joking that Incognito was a real person and comparing it to “Guy Incognito” from The Simpsons.
However, as it turns out, even Google’s own workforce isn’t sold on the company’s claims around Incognito mode’s privacy protections.
The company, which has faced accusations of violating privacy in the past, reportedly has been subjected to internal criticism and jokes about its inept digital assistant. The employees who say this think the feature was put into place with the public’s trust while potentially misleading privacy protections were given. It comes amid multiple lawsuits questioning Google transparency around the tool.
A report says that Google marketing chief Lorraine Twohill warned Pichai that consumers may start to trust the company less. In one email sent to her, she reportedly explained that confusion amongst consumers about the difference between Incognito mode and private browsing were making it more difficult for ads to be produced.
“Make Incognito Mode truly private” she wrote in the email. It’s worth noting that Twohill sent that email after multiple users filed a multi-billion dollar class action privacy lawsuit against Google for allegedly tracking users while using Incognito. Those users claim that supposedly surreptitious tracking amounts to privacy violations. The judge presiding over the lawsuit last week refused to let plaintiffs question Pichai in pre-trial proceedings despite the CEO’s connections in Google Chrome’s development and subsequent concerned emails regarding Incognito.
For some clarity, Google’s Incognito browsing is touted as a way to keep your search history from other people and protect your privacy. The truth is that the mode doesn’t actually prevent Google or its advertisers from logging and profiting off your searches. Critics of Incognito, like the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, and more recently Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argue that Google’s branding of this feature makes it seem much more privacy preserving than it actually is.
For its part, Google vehemently denies those allegations.
Google has always been aware of privacy concerns, even going as far as to include privacy controls within our services. We encourage the whole team to constantly be discussing and considering ideas in order to improve the features that already exist. The plaintiffs in this case have intentionally mischaracterized what we’ve said about incognito mode, which is why we’re filing a response.
The court document mentions that it’s well known that Incognito mode doesn’t mean full invisibility on the web, and that the user agrees to these terms each time the service is used.
Court filings obtained last week by Bloomberg revealed other employees shared Twohill’s sentiment.
“We need to stop calling it Incognito and stop using a Spy Guy icon,” one engineer said in a 2018 chat, citing publicly available research showing users didn’t really understand how the feature works. Another engineer flippantly responded by posting a wiki to the page for “Guy Incognito” from The Simpsons, who, other than a small mustache, looks identical to Homer Simpson. That low effort disguise, according to the engineer, “accurately conveys the level of privacy that it offers.”
A Google Chrome product lead reportedly even proposed altering the Incognito launch page to read “You are NOT protected from Google”. Needless to say, Google had that idea shitcanned.
The features that Google has taken to Chrome’s Incognito feature seem too complicated for new users, which can lead to lost sales. Fortunately, that doesn’t solve the problem of honesty in advertising. Research suggests that only a few of the more important notes are actually delivering value to customers.
Private Browsing Mode simply erases browsing history, cookies, and other data from your computer when you close it. This is a great way to add an extra layer of protection with Incognito mode. You don’t need to worry about your employer or Google being able to see what you’ve been up to because private Browsing Mode does not prevent them from accessing the information they’d normally be able to get without the addition of this feature.
“Your ISP and employer, websites, search engines, governments and other third-party snoopers can still collect your data and track your IP address,” Sean Markuson wrote.
Google provides a “pretty decent, dumb” way to protect your privacy. It’s not very sophisticated and misses a lot of trackers that can collect data that would break the functionality on sites without any issues if they had taken an expresive approach.
The jokey Google engineers writing about The Simpsons are a good argument for Guy Incognito’s inferior disguising skills. Sure, he might not have the best disguise or even what one would call a particularly good one, but it technically still counts as one–right??