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Posted at: Jul 20, 2019, 11:00 AM; last updated: Jul 20, 2019, 11:00 AM (IST)

Google to fix loophole that let firms track porn-viewing habits

Google to fix loophole that let firms track porn-viewing habits
Photo for representational purpose only. iStock

San Francisco, July 20

After facing criticism over letting third-party organisation get access to users’ viewing habits even while browsing in ‘Incognito’ mode, Google has said Chrome will fix a loophole that has allowed sites to detect people who are browsing the web privately.

This confirms that a loophole is indeed there in “Incognito” mode allowing site owners and publishers to detect when people are browsing privately, including porn.

“People choose to browse the web privately for many reasons. Some wish to protect their privacy on shared or borrowed devices, or to exclude certain activities from their browsing histories,” Barb Palser, a Partner Development Manager at Google said in a blog post.

Chrome will remedy a loophole that has allowed sites to detect people who are browsing in ‘Incognito’ Mode.

“This will affect some publishers who have used the loophole to deter metered paywall circumvention,” Palser added.

When third-party vendors use the loophole in Chrome’s “Incognitoa mode, Chrome’s FileSystem API is disabled to avoid leaving traces of activity on someone’s device.

“With the release of Chrome 76 scheduled for July 30, the behaviour of the FileSystem API will be modified to remedy this method of Incognito Mode detection. Chrome will likewise work to remedy any other current or future means of Incognito Mode detection,” Google informed.

Google’s acknowledgment came after a new joint study from Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pennsylvania that investigated 22,484 sex websites using a tool called “webXray” revealed that 93 per cent of pages track and leak users’ data to third-party organisations even during the “Incognito” mode.

Of non-pornography-specific services, Google tracks 74 per cent of sites, Oracle 24 per cent and Facebook 10 per cent.

According to Google, the change will affect sites that use the “FileSystem API” to intercept “Incognito” mode sessions and require people to log in or switch to normal browsing mode,” on the assumption that these individuals are attempting to circumvent metered paywalls”.

“We suggest publishers monitor the effect of the ‘FileSystem API’ change before taking reactive measures since any impact on user behaviour may be different than expected and any change in meter strategy will impact all users, not just those using ‘Incognito’ mode,” Google explained. — IANS

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