Web browser privacy and the Google Chrome Incognito window

Google Chrome Incognito Window FAQ: What is the Google Chrome browser Incognito window, and how does it work?

Web browser privacy: As I continue to explore the murky waters of "internet web browser privacy and security" following Facebook's decision to make your personal information public by default, I've been digging into the Google Chrome browser. One of the really nice things about Chrome and your web browser privacy is that Chrome makes it very simple to open an "Incognito" web browser window.

Using Chrome on Mac OS X, just click the File menu, then click the "New Incognito Window" menu item, and Chrome will open a new "incognito" window for you. Fine, you say, but what is an "Incognito Window"?

Web browser privacy and the Chrome Incognito window

When you first open a Chrome Incognito window, Chrome tells you what an Incognito Window is:

You've gone incognito. Pages you view in this window won't appear in your browser history or search history, and they won't leave other traces, like cookies, on your computer after you close the incognito window. Any files you download or bookmarks you create will be preserved, however.

Going incognito doesn't affect the behavior of other people, servers, or software. Be wary of:

  • Websites that collect or share information about you
  • Internet service providers or employers that track the pages you visit
  • Malicious software that tracks your keystrokes in exchange for free smileys
  • Surveillance by secret agents
  • People standing behind you

After playing with the Chrome Incognito window, I've found that the Location bar (the area where you type in URLs) is aware of your web browser history. That is, if you type the URL for a website that you've been to before in a regular Chrome browser window or tab, Chrome will display that URL in the drop-down area below the Location field.

Beyond that, I wasn't entirely sure about what they're saying about web browser cookies, so I decided to keep digging.

Web browser privacy and cookies - The Chrome Incognito help/support page

After more digging around into the Google Chrome Incognito support page, I found this statement about Chrome browser cookies:

All new browser cookies are deleted after you close all incognito windows that you've opened.

Browsing in incognito mode only keeps Google Chrome from storing information about the websites you've visited. The websites you visit may still have records of your visit.

For example, if you sign into your Google Account on http://www.google.com while in incognito mode, your subsequent web searches are recorded in your Google Web History.

That's a little more helpful, but what about existing web browser cookies?

Web browser privacy, cookies, and Chrome - Chrome privacy statement

I finally found what I was looking for in regards to how the Chrome Incognito window deals with existing cookies on Google's Chrome privacy page:

If you use Google Chrome in incognito mode, it will not transmit any pre-existing cookies to sites that you visit. Sites may deposit new cookies on your machine while you are in incognito mode, however. These cookies will be temporarily stored and transmitted to sites while you remain in incognito mode. They will be deleted when you close the browser or return to normal browsing mode.

What that is saying is that if your browser already has a cookie stored in it named "TrackMe" from a website named example.com, the Chrome Incognito window will not respond to a "get" request from that cookie while you are in the Incognito Window.

A simple way to test this is to log into an email service like Yahoo Mail or Gmail in a normal Chrome browser window, then open a Chrome Incognito window, and try to access your email in that window. In the Chrome Incognito window, you'll have to log in again.

More on internet web browser privacy, security, and cookies

This issue of "internet web browser privacy, security, and cookies" has taken me down a dark alley of the internet. At the moment the only other article I have posted here is "Internet web browser privacy and Flash LSO cookies", but I'll keep digging. I suppose that if there's one good thing to be gotten from Facebook's decision about your privacy, it's that it has motivated me to dig into this murky realm. I have to say, at the moment, terms like "internet privacy" or "web browser privacy" seem to be oxymorons.

I hope this web browser privacy and security tip has been helpful. If you have any additional browser privacy and/or browser security tips, please feel free to leave a comment below.