Google Maps Will Soon Have Chrome's Best Feature: Incognito Mode

Google taps a feature for discretion-seeking browsers as part of its privacy efforts.

by James Dennin

If you were a massive tech conglomerate looking to allay privacy concerns amid a steady drumbeat of data breaches and other scandals, where would you look for solutions?If you owned the world’s most popular web browser like Google’s Chrome, you’ve got a pretty good a roadmap.

This seems to be part of Google’s thinking as it rolls out new privacy products. At its annual I/O Developers Conference on Tuesday, Google announced that, more than a decade after it was initially introduced, Google will bring Incognito Mode to the company’s other products. The plan is to start with Maps, announced CEO Sundar Pichai, and then expand the feature, which blocks your browsing activity from being harvested and stored by Google’s crawlers. Pichai was vague when he also said the feature would come to Search later this year. Whether that meant Google’s search tool in the browser or just in Maps is unclear or the Search bar in Pixel phones, is unclear.

“Incognito mode has been a popular feature in Chrome since it launched,” Pichai said. “Your activity, like the places you search and navigate to, won’t be linked to your account. We want to make it easy to enter in and out of Incognito, and Maps will soon join Chrome and YouTube, and we’ll be bringing it to Search this year as well.”

As far as a timeline, Pichai would only say the feature was arriving “soon.”

As expected, Google used I/O to update the public on its latest privacy protections. 


While it’s likely benefitted from rival Facebook and the giant target on its back, Google is still largely a digital advertising company that makes money by scraping personal data and using it to serve you certain content. Just last week at F8, Facebook talked about its plans for addressing privacy concerns: A mix of software upgrades — like bringing end-to-end encryption to Messenger — and product changes, like prioritizing interactions with close friends and groups.

Google’s changes are a little subtler. In addition to expanding Incognito mode to bring it to Maps and Search, the company is also trying to make privacy settings a little more intuitive within Google’s U.I.

Starting “soon,” Pichai said, clicking on your own profile image will conjure up Google’s privacy settings. Google also introduced a new function to let you periodically scrub your browsing history every few months, say, on a recurring basis.

There will also be some changes to Chrome and to Google’s own processes, particularly relating to how it uses cookies.

By the end of the year, the company also said it will introduce new features to help you monitor which data about you certain cookies may be collecting, and also better controls to limit which information you do and don’t want to share. The company also says its looking ahead for ways to prevent “finger printing,” surreptitious techniques that some data brokers use to track you while you’ve got your privacy features turned on.

The purpose of these upgrades, Google says, is to make it possible to enjoy cookies when they’re good — for example, when they’re keeping you logged in to paywalled sites or remembering your Slack password — without having to worry about whether your personal information is being shared because you clicked on this or that site.

In the meanwhile, you should — “soon,” Pichai says — be able to keep your searches on Maps from being searchable on your account. Feel free to, er, plan your surprise parties in peace.

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