“We have to stop calling him incognito and stop wearing a Spy Guy icon.”
Google is at the center of a disgusting lawsuit, filed in May, alleging that the Silicon Valley giant misled the public about the amount of data it collects from users, even when they are in their Chrome browser’s “Incognito” private browsing mode. And while those allegations are troubling, one of the most surprising details to emerge from the lawsuit is potentially compromising jokes by Google employees about the matter.
But what was also revealed in court was a very serious email from Google’s chief marketing officer, Lorraine Twohill, to CEO Sundar Pichai.
“Make incognito mode truly private,” Twohill wrote in an email last year. quoted by Bloomberg. “We’re limited in how strongly we can market Incognito because it’s not really private, so it requires really confusing coverage language that’s almost more damaging.”
jokes don’t lie
The email, along with many other communications, were revealed in court documents from the pending trial. Many of them show that Google engineers thought the company’s exterior layout in incognito mode was suspicious and misleading.
Sharing a study that showed users misunderstood the limited privacy of incognito mode, a Chrome engineer wrote in a 2018 group chat to colleagues that “we need to stop calling it incognito and stop using a Spy Guy icon,” referring to the silly incognito mode icon depicting the silhouette of a cartoon spy wearing sunglasses and a hat.
Another engineer responded with a link to a wiki page for a “Simpsons” character named incognito boywho looks exactly like Homer Simpson, if he were dressed in a bad costume.
“Regardless of the name,” the employee continued, “the incognito icon should always have been [Guy Incognito]… which also accurately conveys the level of privacy it provides.”
All said, lol. That’s a pretty damning and amusing idea of how much Google’s own employees believed in browsing mode privacy, which is to say, not very much.
Google, in its defense, argues that it makes it clear to users that incognito mode is not totally private and that its users have already given their consent for the company to track their data. The test version doesn’t have a set date yet, but it could potentially reveal what kind of data Google saves from Incognito. It will be fascinating to see how it unfolds.
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