In December 2008, the internet welcomed Google’s Incognito Mode, a privacy option for Chrome, with open arms. The feature offered protection against overbearing browser-history snoops at a time when many of us considered getting caught visiting NSFW sites (OK, let’s be frank: porn) on a computer to be the biggest threat posed by the web. This wasn’t exactly the case.
In fact, hiding your unmentionable browsing habits was hardly the reason a crack team of developers at Google made Incognito Mode. Knowing that Incognito Mode is still widely misunderstood, and has somewhat unfairly come to connote shady behavior, we talked to one of the people who built it, Google’s Vice President of Chrome, Darin Fisher. Fisher provided a firsthand take on how people should be using it, and what people shouldn’t be expecting it to do for them.
Incognito Mode will not help you watch porn at work…
Although Incognito Mode has earned a reputation for helping people shield prying eyes from seeing whatever it is they don’t want to be caught having looked at, its origins are far from illicit. According to Fisher, Incognito Mode was born in 2008 with the primary intention of making it easier and more convenient for people who share computers to do so without mucking up their devices with another user’s cookies — the temporary or permanent files stored on your computer by websites to help them recognize you and keep track of your preferences.
That said, it was also meant to help people hide behaviors they didn’t want loved ones to see. Though, as Fisher describes it, the scenario Google envisioned involves a boyfriend searching for engagement rings who doesn’t want his soon-to-be-fiancée — with whom he shares a computer — to get any hint that he’s about to propose. The Chrome team wanted to provide a tool that would enable people to “pause” their browser from recording its history so people wouldn’t have to purge it in its entirety whenever they didn’t want to leave a trace — a move Fisher describes as “destructive” because it prevents your browser from taking advantage of historical data (e.g., cookies) to power future searches, and causes it to slow down.