Websites are still able to detect when visitors use Chrome’s incognito (personal search) mode, even though Google tried last year to disrupt the practice.
There are several reasons why website operators like to block incognito mode users.
For example, some users use incognito mode to bypass paywalls content and various filters / content barriers. In addition, the current (private browsing) incognito mode in most browsers today also features an aggressive anti-tracking feature that blocks websites from tracking and fully monetizes their traffic.
Both problems – and the inherent use of personal browsing – result in financial losses directly to the website and the main reason why scripts that detect incognito mode have become popular in recent years.
Google is trying to fix it in 2019
In early 2019, Google decided to do it Take action against the script. Chrome 76, released in July 2019, includes an update that blocks websites from using the FileSystem API to detect whether users use Chrome’s normal browsing mode or its incognito mode.
Prior to Chrome 76, the FileSystem API was not available at all in incognito mode, and website operators only need to ask this API to find out whether users are using incognito mode. With Chrome 76, Google activates the FileSystem API for incognito mode windows that makes previously detection scripts useless. However, this update is not easy. Google does not fully activate the FileSystem API, but only sets hard limits for the amount of storage space that can be accessed by incognito window mode, at 120MB.
It took the programmer under one week after the release of Chrome 76 to find what was happening, and develop a script that investigated the FileSystem API to determine the amount of storage space that a website can access, and indirectly detect whether a user is using incognito mode or not.
There are no new patches, despite last year’s promise
Answering questions from technology news sites Bleeping computerGoogle promised in August 2019 to fix the bypass and block detection of incognito mode.
However, nine months later, it was still possible to detect incognito modes in Chrome, and all other Chromium-based browsers, such as Edge, Opera, Vivaldi, and Brave, all of which share the core Chrome code base.
Furthermore, the developer has taken the script that was distributed last year and has expanded support to non-Chrome browsers, such as Firefox and Safari, allows sites to block users in incognito mode across the board.
At present, there is no time limit for new Chrome updates to block incognito mode detection, however, today, Google may be more interested than ever in fixing this problem.
On Tuesday, the company had mentioned in the class-action lawsuit where the ad division is accused of secretly tracking users even if they navigate the web in incognito mode.
Advertisers like Google have a number of indicators to track users in both normal and incognito mode. Blocking incognito mode detection won’t stop advertisers from tracking users in incognito mode, because website operators and advertisers will still see information such as IP addresses and other traffic data. However, it will help Google gain goodwill with its users, many who care about their privacy and don’t like being denied services by websites just because they are in incognito mode.
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