Google has announced that with the introduction of Chrome 76 (at the end of July), it has plugged a loophole that enabled websites to tell when you were browsing in Incognito mode.
Incognito mode in Chrome (private browsing) is really designed to protect privacy for those using shared or borrowed devices, and exclude certain activities from being recorded in their browsing histories. Also, less commonly, private browsing can be very important for people suffering political oppression or domestic abuse for example, where there may be important safety reasons for concealing web activity.
The loophole that is being plugged with the introduction of Chrome 76 relates to FileSystem API. In the case of Google’s Incognito mode, the problem has been that whereas Chrome’s FileSystem API is disabled in Incognito Mode to avoid leaving traces of activity on someone’s device, some websites that have been checking for Incognito mode have still been able to detect that is being used, and have received an error messages to confirm this. This has meant that Incognito browsing has not been technically incognito.
In Chrome 76, which has just been introduced, the behaviour of the FileSystem API has been modified to ensure that Incognito Mode use can no longer be detected, and Google has stated that it will work to remedy any other future means of Incognito Mode usage in Chrome being detected.
Metered Paywalls Affected
While this change may be a good thing for Chrome users, it is more bad news for web publishers with ‘metered paywalls’. These are web publishers that offer a certain number of free articles to view before a visitor must register and log in. These websites have already suffered from the ability of users to use Incognito mode to circumvent this system, and as a result, many of these publishers resorted to Incognito detection to stop people from circumventing their publishing system. Stopping the ability to detect Incognito browsing with the introduction of Chrome 76 will, therefore, cause more problems for metered paywall publishers.
Google has said that although its News teams support sites with meter strategies and understand their need to reduce meter circumvention, any approach that’s based on private browsing detection undermines the principles of its Incognito Mode.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Plugging this loophole with the new, improved Chrome 76 is good news for users, many of whom may not have realised that Incognito mode was not as incognito as they had thought. Using Incognito mode on your browser, however, will only provide privacy on the devices you browse on and won’t stop many sites from still being able to track you. If you’d like greater privacy, it may be a case of using another browser e.g. Tor or Brave, or a VPN.
For metered paywall publishers, however, the plugged loophole in Chrome 76 is not good news as, unless these publishers make changes to their current system and/or decide to go through the process of exploring other solutions with Google, they will be open to more meter circumvention.