Google Tracks Incognito Users, Study Claims

Internet browsers employ “Incognito mode” to roam the web anonymously and avoid leaving a cyber trail. Google describes it as “browsing privately.”

But what does that really mean?

New research from privacy-focused search engine DuckDuckGo (DDG) shows that Google tailors search results to individuals even when they use Incognito mode. DDG asserts that users, even those logged out of their Google accounts, can expect their previous data to shape their search results.

The study claims that Google uses information that includes browsing history, search history, and online purchases.

In the study, more than 80 people searched Google at the same time while logged out of Google accounts and in private browsing mode. People saw different results for the same search item. DDG reports that the various results could not be explained by location or time.

Disclaimer: DDG does have an interest in making Google look bad. DDG runs an alternative search engine that brands itself as “The search engine that doesn’t track you.” However, the company made the data from this study downloadable and released the code used to analyze the data.

Google disputed the study overall, saying “This study’s methodology and conclusions are flawed since they are based on the assumption that any difference in search results are based on rationalization.”

Google continued: “That is simply not true. In fact, there are a number of factors that can lead to slight differences, including time and location, which this study doesn’t appear to have controlled for effectively.”

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