While many believe that Google’s “Incognito” mode means their web searches are private, newly-released emails from the company reveal that engineers still have access to a user’s internet activity.
Now, an article from the Daily Mail has detailed the ways in which to improve your internet security as disclosed by tech experts.
Engineers at DigitalTrends say your first choice should be a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which hides your IP address from sites you may visit. The IP address, a series of unique numbers, is generated by whatever service provider you use.
But while a VPN is nearly impenetrable, there are a few steps experts say should be taken for greater security.
“First, go into your web browser’s settings and block all cookies (which are saved passwords, usernames, etc., which can be used to track where you have been online even when in a VPN – think of it as leaving footprints in the snow while wearing a mask over your face).”
“Second, you need to make sure you do not log into any browser accounts like a Google account, as that opens a direct line for whichever service you log into to track you,” the Mail noted.
Then they say to go ahead and use Incognito mode (if you are using Google as your browser) as it will have become more effective at doing what its name suggests once the previous additional steps are taken.
Lastly, if you really want the height of security available to the commoner, download the internet browser TOR, aka The Onion Router, which was developed by the U.S. Navy in the 1990s. TOR works by bouncing your internet activity through layers (hence the name) of randomly changing servers and computers. TOR is now registered as a non-profit entity aimed at the furtherance of anonymous internet use.
According to Bloomberg, Google’s marketing chief Lorraine Twohill emailed CEO Sundar Pichai last year on International Data Privacy Day and asked for the tech giant to increase its work in matters of privacy.
“Make Incognito mode truly private,” Twohill wrote in the email. “We are limited in how strongly we can market Incognito because it’s not truly private, thus requiring really fuzzy, hedging language that is almost more damaging.”
And damaging is right.
A class-action lawsuit has been filed in California with a hearing set for next Tuesday to determine if the suit can proceed. At issue is the deceptive language concerning Incognito, which states that other users will not be able to see a person’s data. It does not, however, say that Google can’t see it. In addition to Twohill’s email, other internal emails have been revealed and are cited in the lawsuit in which engineers at the company mocked the uselessness of Incognito mode.
“We need to stop calling it Incognito and stop using the Spy Guy icon,” one engineer said in an email chain in 2018 after a study was conducted on the efficacy of the browser’s protections.
Another engineer replied with a meme of Homer Simpson wearing a mustache, a suit, and a top hat, and joked that Homer’s disguise “accurately conveyed the level of privacy [Incognito mode] provides.”
Google provided a statement in its defense.
“Privacy controls have long been built into our services and we encourage our teams to constantly discuss or consider ideas to improve them,’ a Google spokesperson said.
“Incognito mode offers users a private browsing experience, and we’ve been clear about how it works and what it does whereas the plaintiffs in this case have purposely mischaracterized our statements.”
U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers will determine if the case can go forward. If found liable, millions of customers may receive damages up to a whopping $1000 each, Bloomberg said.
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