For the privacy-minded among us, Chrome’s Incognito mode can offer at least some added peace of mind during browsing sessions. But some sites may know that you’re trying to access them in Incognito, and Google reportedly wants to put a lid on it.
9to5Google reported Friday that Google is planning to make it harder for sites to see that you’re using Incognito mode. One way developers are able to see that you are using it is by attempting to use the “FileSystem” API, which allows permanent files to be made and is otherwise disabled while using Incognito, per 9to5Google:
Obviously, being able to so easily detect whether a Chrome user is currently Incognito was not Google’s intention. A series of recent commits to Chromium’s Gerrit source code management reveal that Google is finally looking to solve this issue, after years of being aware of it.
Essentially, when asked for a file system while in Incognito, Chrome will create a virtual one using RAM, to fully ensure it’s deleted once you leave Incognito. This should easily shut down all current methods for detecting if Chrome is Incognito.
Back in 2017, Ars Technica noticed that the Boston Globe was alerting Chrome users that it knew they were attempting to access the site using Incognito mode. It presented them with a choice: Either log in to your subscriber account and potentially allow the Globe access to some of your behaviour, or miss out on whatever you are trying to read.
Alexei Miagkov of the Electric Frontier Foundation told Ars at the time that he didn’t know of other sites taking the measure, but 9to5Google noted developers have known about the workaround for some time now. And if you opt to log in to an account while in Incognito, Miagkov said, “you make it easy for [sites] to keep tracking you, to keep building their (advertising) user profiles.”
9to5Google said it obtained an internal doc indicating that Google plans to remove the FileSystem API should it discover that it’s being used mostly for the purpose of detecting Incognito mode. The site also reported that the solution is expected to first arrive as an experimental feature in Chrome 74, releasing in April, before potentially becoming a default setting in Chrome 76 or later.