Despite Google’s touting of the incognito mode feature available on its Chrome web browser, it reportedly does not offer much in terms of security and privacy. According to a report from Bloomberg, Google engineers were making fun of incognito mode as far back as 2018, and there’s a reason for this — the way that iconography conveys the level of private it affords.
In a Bloomberg Politics video published to YouTube, one Google engineer reportedly stated that the company needed to change both the spy guy icon and the incognito name because they were giving users the wrong impression. For example, an infamous 2018 article by TechCrunch states that “in computer science terms, there’s so much more [about internet browsing] we don’t know or understand”. This can be attributed to consumers who have little understanding of digital technology and instead see these icons as symbolizing increased and meaningful privacy on their internet browsing. Another employee in the recording agreed with this line of thought and stated “Let’s make it look like Homer Simpson.” As another example of this mindset, take a look at what Happily Married Bloggers had to say about it: “The label… Should read impersonal and not give the impression that people are somehow hidden when they’re not.”
Incognito mode on Chrome isn’t all that neat because it doesn’t work with sites you’ve bookmarked or saved from your favourites.
In Incognito Mode, Chrome keeps no browsing history or private data. It also prevents anyone from seeing what you’re doing. You can use it to, for example, keep your internet browsing private with a shared computer.
Incognito mode doesn’t do anything else. It won’t record your location, IP address, or other identification data in order to protect your privacy. Incognito mode is not a VPN, and it’s purpose is solely to hide your activity on a small-scale. Even then, it will still keep track of every bookmark and downloaded file you’ve made.
The text communications surfaced as part of a lawsuit aiming for class action status against Google over claims that the company harvested users’ data even when they used incognito mode. For its part, a Google spokesperson said in a statement to Bloomberg that regarding incognito mode, the company has been “clear about how it works and what it does.”