While I'll gladly criticise Google when they introduce yet more privacy invasion, this lawsuit is a stupid money grab and I hope Google wins this fight.
The entire lawsuit revolves around the idea that incognito ("private") browsing somehow implies that users aren't tracked at all, despite a clear, front-and-center warning that they still might be whenever you use it, purely based on the name alone.
Someone saw that law makers were going after big tech and wanted in on the action. This lawsuit servers nothing but the lawyers. If Google loses this, ANY name that COULD be ambiguous could become grounds for a lawsuit for billions despite all warnings you might add to software.
Next in line is Microsoft because the transparency effects in the upcoming Windows 11 do not actually make computer screens transparent as one might expect from windows.
The focus seems to be the idea that Google knew about misconceptions and did not adequately address them, even with the prominent disclaimer. It seems like an arbitrary focus because there are so many other ways users misunderstand computers. I would think that EULAs would be a better target. Legislation requiring simpler summaries along the lines of Creative Commons licences would go a long way toward better informed users.
As someone technical, I agree. Especially with a bit that it’ll serve mostly lawyers. But I won’t be surprised if Google loses this lawsuit.
If you aren’t technical and understand difference between client and server, you may not know that while using one Google product, that claims to be incognito, other Google products are still tracking you. That’s how internet is designed to work, but when one company controls clients and servers, it can get confusing to a general public.
It doesn't make sense at all. When I'm driving a car, let's say a Toyota, I expect that the car would protect me from its own failures (like: alerting me of oil or battery issues). But no way I would expect the car to avoid collisions with other Toyotas just because those are made by the same company.
The same argument could apply to firearms (shouldn't harm the holder, so the same firearm model shouldn't hurt other holders of the same firearm model?) and a lot of things.
Those analogies don't fit. Collisions between cars have nothing to do with the intention of Toyota. Toyota isn't in the business of causing cars to crash. Firearm manufacturers aren't really in the business of encouraging civilian gun users to shoot each other.
Google's fundamental business model involves tracking people, so if you use one of their features that supposedly turns off tracking, it would be natural to assume that Google would stop all tracking.
I go out of my way not to use suggestive names like incognito because for the non-technical, it creates an expectation that will be relied upon by those that do not have the background understand what they are reading. "History-less", "local self-clean", "non-caching"... All of these names are accurate and far less suggestive than incognito. Incognito, like it or not, evokes the expectation that the browser is doing something to frustrate monitoring by other parties.
Here be the wrath of the non-technical masses, and why the "luser" attitude is the most destructive, anti-social, and regressive attitude in tech.
Our goal should be simplification of computing. Not the unceasing obfuscation and complexifying of it in some misguided attempt to create job security. I sincerely hope Google loses. Hard. It's about damn time that the tech industry be held to a higher standard.
I agree that labeling should be simple and easy to understand, but people aren't going to understand "non-caching". They don't know what a cache is, other than that websites keep telling them to clear it. "Local self-clean" tells me absolutely nothing, other than that I can maybe use it to blow dust out of my PC.
Google needed a name that fits on a button, translates easily and is recognisable. That's why we're using "browsers" instead of "HTML5 user agents", why we use "windows" instead of "top level control elements" and "sleep mode" instead of "ACPI power state S3". Using technically correct terms for the general public is exactly why people prefer dumbed down smartphones over complex traditional software.
Since its inception, private mode has shown a screen that describes what it does or doesn't do whenever you open it. Had Google omitted that, and directed private mode directly to the user's home page, then perhaps I'd agree with you. In this case, I believe Google did the best they could to balance a technically correct explanation with something that's understandable by normal people and children.
You can't blame everything on "the user shouldn't have to know better". An automatic gearbox won't put itself into reverse when you want it, but it's still called automatic. A juicer won't turn a spoon into metal juice. A vacuum cleaner won't work in a vacuum. All of this is perfectly logical if you're used to the context things are used in, but that context obviously doesn't need to be part of most products' naming.
Misunderstanding naming and terminology is a sign that things need better explanations, but not the basis for a lawsuit in my opinion.
I agree. There would be no issue if these were two separate companies - Google Inc (et al) would be doing their best to surveil you, while Chrome Inc would be doing their best to keep you safe from the prevailing conditions. But since it's a single entity offering you privacy and then doing the exact opposite behind the scenes, it's fraudulent. Understanding the technical details for how it works out the way it does just creates a blind spot where you miss the big picture, which is how Google managed to get themselves into this situation.
Not only that, there's not really any way Google could avoid tracking people who're using Incognito mode, because that would require telling websites that Incognito mode is in use - which itself is a privacy issue and any method of detecting this ends up being widely abused to try and foce people not to use it. I can't imagine that letting Google and only Google have access to this information would go down any better.
> If I go to a party incognito, I don't expect to leave no physical trace of my presence.
It's more like going to a party hosted by someone who makes a living by tracking you, where you were told that you are going to be incognito. But secretly, behind the scenes, you're still being tracked by the host of the party using a different technique.
Yeah the big screen makes it really clear. Everything is described as it is. The only stupid thing is the name, it should be called a "don't-save-my-history" (or "no-history") mode as incognito means something completely different.
> The entire lawsuit revolves around the idea that incognito ("private") browsing somehow implies that users aren't tracked at all, despite a clear, front-and-center warning that they still might be whenever you use it, purely based on the name alone.
One problem is that Google's Incognito Mode says this:
> You’ve gone Incognito ... Your activity might still be visible to: Websites you visit, Your employer or school, Your internet service provider
It isn't some ambiguous "websites" that are tracking you in Incognito Mode, Google is tracking you on those websites (Google Analytics, etc.) and providing some of that data to the website owners. Users don't understand how the Internet works, and it's misleading for Google to imply that it's only someone else that is doing the tracking.
While the technical merits are pretty weak, the central issue is that both Chrome and Google analytics or other ad-tech things are made by Google. So, if nothing else, a good outcome of the lawsuit would be to for Google to expand their standard incognito disclaimer to include that "Google" may track them. You may argue that everything includes Google, but the distinction is useful because Chrome is made by Google.
Where does Googles money come from. Advertising budgets. Do advertisers get upset that Google is getting sued for misleading consumers. Perhaps the advertisers are wondering how Google might be misleading them (advertisers), too. Others might see Google's surveillance "business" as a "money grab". Its founders originally said that Google not fall victim to the influence of advertising. In the ultimate display of anti-integrity, they did the exact opposite and sold out 110%. Generally, consumers have not paid Google for anything and would have no reason to feel like lawyers are making a "money grab" to take a cut of such payments. Quite the contrary. Even a "money grab" by lawyers at Google's expense could be the closest thing to "justice" that consumers will ever get. Thats because discovery in these lawsuits often reveals bit by bit what goes on behind the scenes at Google. It is undisputed that the public wants to know how their data is being collected and what is being done with it. Discovery in any litigation, "money grab" or otherwise, is how they are learning the truth. Money grab, indeed. If "Big Tech" isn't a "stupid money grab", I don't know what is.
For me, the biggest surprise with Chrome Incognito mode was discovering that separate Incognito windows share cookies with each other.
I had been logging into accounts in an Incognito window, then opening a new Incognito window to visit other sites assuming they were new private sessions. One day I was surprised to find myself already logged in to someplace I visited, in a new Incognito window.
At that point, I discovered that much of my Incognito activity across the web for the previous few months was in fact tracked to my identifiable, logged in accounts. And that my multiple accounts (for work, other work, personal) were potentially being linked together, which I did not want.
For months I hadn't noticed because I tended not to open the same sites more than once. So I hadn't realised that cookie sharing was happening, which means cross-site tracking was happening.
Now I don't use Incognito windows any more. There's no point, they aren't what I expected.
Now I use Firefox Containers to segregate account logins and reduce unwanted profiling (e.g. with YouTube), and Temporary Containers when I want a new, ephemeral session.
Firefox Temporary Containers actually do what I'd mistakenly thought Incognito mode was for.
The issue I've described is about local eavesdropping, not only remote accounts.
It was a surprise to open an new Incognito window and find it had access to sessions active in a different window.
That defeats one of the expected use-cases of Incognito mode locally, which is when someone asks if they can borrow your computer to access their account. For example I've done this a few times in a library or hackerspace for someone I didn't know well. You open an Incognito window for them, and both you and they think it's safe for them to access their Facebook and Gmail or whatever, and then close the window. They think you can't browse their accounts after, and you think they can't browse your accounts if they stick to that window. Both turn out to be unexpectedly false - unless you know to kill all your existing Incognito windows first. Which you wouldn't do if you need to use them later, unless you know you have to close all the other windows first.
As for local vs remote tracking. Incognito documentation does not say local eavesdropping is the only feature. It talks about holding a separate session for "cookies and site data" and that those are deleted when the session is closed; and about restrictions on third-party cookies. From Chrome help:
> "Cookies and site data are remembered while you're browsing, but deleted when you exit Incognito mode. You can choose to block third-party cookies when you open a new incognito window."
Like anyone technically aware of how the web works, I don't expect this feature to prevent tracking in general, or to truly hide my identity. But I do expect a cookie session container, which Incognito mode does advertise, to allow me to login to separate accounts without ending up logged into an account unexpectedly.
The issue is not that tracking takes place. It's that the scope and duration of a session was surprising in a way I didn't expect from the UX, and it's not the most useful in situations such as the "make a window for a guest" situation described above. Getting this wrong also adds a security risk to those of us tasked with protecting other people's data via browser tools. I posted about it here because I think the behaviour will be a surprise to other people too; it should at least be more well known.
Nope, I think in Safari all tabs are completely independent from one another in incognito.
To be honest, it’s sometimes a bit of a pain (e.g. when you are using incognito to just have a different identity, like to be on a corporate/personal account.) I wish a browser offered the idea of opening windows/tabs with selectable incognito identities.
> I wish a browser offered the idea of opening windows/tabs with selectable incognito identities.
That's exactly what the Firefox Containers feature is.
It's not that easy to use, and extensions that improve the UX or automate container selection are kind of messy. But it does work. It's excellent for when you need to use multiple accounts on a service.
Google has tons of valid issues with their privacy, but honestly I don't think the ridiculousness of the Incognito Mode lawsuit has any merit.
The description of Incognito Mode was always very clear that the client wasn't tracking you, but servers could still track you. The fact that Google has another product, Google Analytics, that they offer any website developer that want to put it on their site, does not mean their original description of Incognito Mode was inaccurate.
Especially as a technologist, it irks me when I see journalists deliberately obfuscating what actually goes on with Incognito Mode.
I might be inclined to agree somewhat, except for the situation described in the article.
It's one thing if somebody raised internal concerns about possible misconceptions and it was ultimately decided that it wasn't likely.
It's another issue when those concerns are important enough to reach the CEO of Google-sized company, and that CEO then decides not to do anything lest they attract any attention. This is particularly true when dealing with something like a privacy mode.
I actually think that's less accurate. Google on the server side isn't in any preferential position, better or worse, than any other server-side analytics.
That's why I think this lawsuit is such bullshit, in that many of the "recommendations" in these comments are saying Google server technologies should specifically get called out (or worse, notified when a user is using Incognito Mode, which actually would be a gross privacy violation), when the whole point is that Chrome's Incognito Mode isn't any different that Safari or Firefox's Private Browsing, so why should Chrome call out something about Google's specific server-side analytics?
> Google on the server side can see that you are using incognito
No, that's the whole point, Google on the server-side (or any other server-side components) shouldn't be able to know you're in Incognito. Chrome already goes to great lengths to try to hide the fact you're in Incognito to servers, because many servers try to block content if they could detect you're in Incognito.
So the only other option would be to only let Google server-side services know you're Incognito, and that actually would be a gross violation of privacy.
There weren’t actually any issues with Incognito Mode. It was a manufactured crisis from people who wanted to claim that Incognito Mode was misleading about hiding internet activity from upstream network providers when it clearly explains otherwise on the Incognito Mode new tab.
I don’t even know what the Incognito Mode opponents even wanted. Built-in free VPN service? Total removal of Incognito Mode?
Google didn’t have any nefarious intent or actions in this. I don’t see why it would be wrong for them to downplay exaggerated allegations.
> I don’t even know what the Incognito Mode opponents even wanted. Built-in free VPN service? Total removal of Incognito Mode?
Agreed. I think this is a case of individual users deriving their own set of functional requirements and assumptions on what it means to be in "Incognito mode", which many people will have a differing opinion on, rather than a specific issue with the functionality provided by the browser.
If it can't be called Incognito mode, I am not sure what other positioning or branding can be applied. There is merit for the current feature set, and gating those features until a significantly high bar is met seems unreasonable.
Yeah, the plaintiffs really need to lose this case. "It doesn't do what I imagined it did based on my uneducated misinterpretation of a brand name and refusal to read what the product clearly states every time I use it" is such a horrible basis for potential litigation that it boggles the mind it was allowed to proceed. Next up they'll be suing AstroGlide because applying the lube doesn't turn them into roller-skating cosmonauts.
My understanding is that it’s more than search results - Google will also track any site you visit that uses Google Ads, Google Analytics or the Google token which is most of the web, and link all this to your Google account on their backend.
The reality is your activity can still be visible by the websites you visit and google plus maybe one or two other companies that have good adoption of their trackers. It’s the and google that I think is confusing for users. It can do that because of how widely adopted its tracking token is on websites (realistically as a website owner you need to put it on to get good google ads performance).
The discontinuity is that when you go in Google Browsers private browsing mode Google will still track you by the websites you visit, across the web due to their tracking token, and they are one of the only companies on the web that can actually do that tracking.
i think "the average user" understands that chrome is not a website. the incognito page warns you that "websites you visit" might still track you, and that's exactly what's happening.
there might be a few people who are confused, but i don't think you can make the argument that google has intentionally misled anybody here. the fact that some people might be confused is not really google's fault. a lot of people are confused about a lot of things every day, nobody needs to be liable for that other than the confused people.
Although the average user might understand that “websites you visit might still track you”, I’m not sure they realise that a lot of websites secretly have a google tracking token which then records their cross-site activity and links it back to their google account if they login.
IMO there is a difference between “the websites you visit might track you” and “the websites you visit might have a google tracker on which will mean we will still track your activity and the sites you visit with that token and link them against your identity”. The first might be technically true, but I think a lot of users would be surprised by the second more nuanced version.
Teslas Autopilot does more 'automatic' stuff than real autopilot on a plan, which can basically only predefined follow gps waypoints with a set speed.
Just because people are stupid about it should not necessitate any changes on Teslas part.
Yes, but you’re missing the point: in the public perception, an autopilot is a device that flies the whole plane while pilots banter and drink coffee with croissants, go to the bathroom, and in general have a good time until it’s time to land.
Telling them that a country road is far more complex than the open sky, and that air traffic is quite sparse, helps little.
I personally use it all the time, for everything I don’t want to show up in an autocomplete context. I started doing this probably 8 years ago after I got annoyed Google would auto suggest misspellings I had previously made. I think they’re much better about this these days but at this point it’s an instinct for pretty much every single one off Google query.
I only use Youtube in incognito mode to avoid the Youtube algorithm and recently I think they have started to preserve suggestions between incognito sessions. Not in the way the algorithm usually works, but much more subtly. It's probably some minor region-based suggestion that triggers but who knows. In the future I think all algorithm driven content sites will use uniquely fingerprinted undeletable algorithmic suggestions. Companies are leaving money on the table by letting users reset the state on algorithms that increase content consumption.
Incognito mode has always been to me just a way to prevent the local client from maintaining my history but I also recall that was the way it was marketed when it first came out. Tracking wasn't really on my mind at that point.
I wonder if some differences in perspectives are the result of when you first became familiar with the feature.
Reading through the article and the comments here, the facts aren't clear to me. Does Google itself track the behavior of its users in incognito mode? Some comments here allege that it does while others suggest this complaint is overblown.
We're talking about non-technical users here - the only such users who would be on Brave/FF are those with a family member in tech who told them to. Furthermore, it's my understanding that some sites tell users to use Chrome, as they don't test on other browsers.
> It is reasonable to assume that you won't be tracked by Google when you're incognito in Google's browser.
Given the existing functionality of incognito mode, what would you call its set of features that it provides? Is it a naming / branding issue?
I believe it should be possible to provide these set of features (or browser operating mode) without going to the extent of not being tracked by Google (the company and its services), even though the ability to do the latter seamlessly would be beneficial.
1. So you're saying only Google is the publisher that specifically gets notified when you use incognito mode. That actually would be a real, concerning privacy violation in my opinion.
2. But the whole point is that it is not just Google who "specifically keeps tracking you". It's any server software out there that keeps logs. The warning Incognito Mode has now is much more correct and accurate that some sort of "Google specific" one would be.
3. That's just dumb. It's a Google product, why shouldn't it have Google branding.
Setting browser to incognito means the browser doesn't recognize who you are and doesn't announce that to sites. The rest of your examples are just scams, but browser example has a reasonable interpretation. There is no reasonable interpretation where "unlimited" means 20 GB a month, or "Full Self Driving" means "You have to be as focused on the road and have your hands on the wheel at every second as this isn't legally self driving".
Icognito basically means your SO won't see your browser history, and that's about it.
What specifically do you argue Google should have done here? I can’t think of a name that could describe the feature without potentially misleading people who don’t understand it; the fundamental problem is that people don’t realize there’s a difference between “privacy from other people on my computer” and “privacy from other sites on the Internet”. Should they have just refused to build a privacy mode at all because they can’t provide all forms of privacy?
The idea you can be in Google Browsers private browsing mode that says Google Browser won’t track you but in reality Google will still track you in that mode given the chance is a huge piece of slight of hand for the average users.
> Google should stop tracking users when they’re in incognito mode.
Google (the Chrome development team) should not track users when they're in incognito mode if they even do.
However, Google (the company and its services) should not care whether a user is using incognito mode or not; Otherwise you're asking for the implementation of additional functionality beyond what incognito mode is intended to provide (ala DNT, etc), and making it specific to only Google, and not other websites, would be a strange position.
Incognito mode is a standard browser feature, there is no reason to believe that Googles browser would work differently than others browsers. Safari calls it "Private Browsing", should that also be illegal since Apple still tracks you on websites you visit even if you have it on? It is insane to assume that every company that has a browser with this feature would sync it with all their website to disable tracking when it is on.
And often times that wouldn't even be what you want. Often you go incognito to log into another account because it creates a fresh browser instance. Doing that would be impossible if it didn't enable any form of tracking, logging in requires them to track you. Making a sensible way where incognito somehow prevented all tracking while still being functional isn't possible.
I didn't imply that a clear and ethical implementation of privacy features (or "tracking users" as what you were previously referring to) in general is now seen as strange; My point is why would should that implementation of not tracking users only apply to Google? Having it only apply to Google and its services would be strange, and just as confusing to users as the current situation you're expressing frustration about.
In your model are you satisfied with Google still applying its tracking techniques to Microsoft Edge users in Microsoft's incognito mode?
At the very least, say something like "Websites, including Google, will keep tracking you". The existing text isn't nearly as explicit about the fact that Google will keep tracking you as it should be.
Absurd how this is getting downvoted when the obvious assumption by non-technical users is that if “Chrome” isn’t tracking you then “Google” isn’t tracking either. And the the simple fact is that Google shouldn’t track you if you’re using incognito mode on its browser.
> And the the simple fact is that Google shouldn’t track you if you’re using incognito mode on its browser.
What is absurd is seeking a remedy where Google is compelled to further couple their ecosystem so that now only Chrome users are exempt from server-side tracking, but Firefox Private Browsing or Edge InPrivate continue to be server-side tracked, because these plaintiffs suddenly understand how private browsing works when the browser doesn't say "Google Chrome" on it.
It's a cash grab. If they wanted a remedy where a user truly had control over their privacy and could turn off server-side tracking at the flick of a client-side switch, they'd lobby for privacy-positive legislation. They just see easy money here because they think they can confuse the courts into a muddled make-believe interpretation of how webservers and user agents work.
Wow. Nearly every comment here is from someone who doesn't see this as a problem. Suspicious. Manipulative much?
Incognito implies exactly that to the layman. Even with a warning about specifics. We had a sense that Google is acting in good conscious when incognito and it was the opposite, AND they have tried to hide it.
Google saved our incognito searches to our Google profiles. Period. They misrepresented a product they built and have earned these consequences.
It's not just Chrome incognito either. Google has acted shady time and time again with unfair business practices. Like YouTube, photos, mail, and drive account lockouts with no options to recover, because "we investigated our decision and we say we were correct. We're not going to tell you what you did wrong either, and you can't get your data back."