Google now admits it tracks you in Chrome's incognito mode following $5B settlement

Google Chrome icon on a laptop screen
(Image credit: Jay Bonggolto / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Google settled a class-action lawsuit for $5 billion that alleged it misled users into thinking the company would not track them in incognito mode.
  • Its original disclaimer said that Chrome would not save their browsing data, but websites, ISPs, and others could still see it.
  • A new disclaimer clarifies that while Chrome (the browser) isn't tracking your data in incognito mode, Google (the website and company) still can.

All modern browsers have private browsing modes available, and the one in Google Chrome is called incognito mode. While the company has long made it clear that websites, school or business administrators, and ISPs can still see your browsing activity in incognito mode, Google said that Chrome does not save this data. 

As it turns out, the idea that Chrome does not track you while in incognito mode is nothing more than a master-level technicality. Chrome, the browser, does not save your history when browsing in incognito mode. Google — the search engine, advertising giant, and trillion-dollar company — will still track your browsing activity per usual, even when in incognito mode. 

This concern was first brought to light in 2020 when a class-action suit was filed against Google for misleading customers into thinking the company would not track them while using incognito mode. The lawsuit alleged that through this discrepancy, Google violated federal wiretapping laws. As compensation, the plaintiffs asked for a minimum of $5 billion.

Despite the company's efforts to get the case thrown out, the legal battles persisted. That is, until recently, when Google paid $5 billion to settle the matter once and for all. 

Google did not admit to any wrongdoing as part of the settlement. Initially, it seemed as if Google would continue operating Chrome and its incognito mode as it always had. However, Google has now updated the disclaimer on the new tab page for incognito mode windows (via MSPowerUser). The change makes it clear what was once ambiguous: Google will still track you while in incognito mode.

The disclaimer for Google Chrome's incognito mode.

(Image credit: Brady Snyder / Android Central)

"Others who use this device won't see your activity, so you can browse more privately," the new disclaimer reads. "This won't change how data is collected by websites you visit and the services they use, including Google. Downloads, bookmarks, and reading list items will be saved."

It's a stark difference in clarity from the original notice, which read: "Now you can browse privately, and other people who use this device won't see your activity. However, downloads, bookmarks, and reading list items will be saved."

The change is present in version 122 of Chrome Canary on Windows and Android. It's only a matter of time before the updated incognito mode disclaimer makes its way to public versions of Chrome, though.

Brady Snyder

Brady is a tech journalist covering news at Android Central. He has spent the last two years reporting and commenting on all things related to consumer technology for various publications. Brady graduated from St. John's University in 2023 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. When he isn't experimenting with the latest tech, you can find Brady running or watching sports.

  • fuzzylumpkin
    Scumbags lol.
  • winmod21
    fuzzylumpkin said:
    Scumbags lol.
    Hear, hear!
  • SvenJ
    Really. Thinking that Private/Incognito/Whatever mode, does anything but keep breadcrumbs off the device you are using, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how the internet and web work.
  • james.buckey
    I strongly believe that the expectation of privacy in Google's incognito mode is misplaced. It reflects a broader issue in contemporary society where individuals fail to take responsibility for understanding the technology they use. It is imperative that users educate themselves about the tools they employ rather than relying on third parties for explanations. Frivolous lawsuits and complaints against Google do not absolve users of their responsibility to be informed consumers. Personally, I have always understood the limitations of incognito mode and am surprised by those who expected it to provide absolute privacy.

    This lawsuit should have been thrown out day one, and any underlying law placing responsibility on the feet of the software vendor should also be repealed .