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Microsoft Wants to Make Sure Text Typed Into Web Browsers in Incognito Mode Stays Private


A lot of people might think that their online activities in Google Chrome’s Incognito mode are not being tracked or recorded, but according to Microsoft, anything you type into the browser on Windows is still being used to learn a user’s typing habits in order to offer autocomplete and autocorrect suggestions. The company is now working to remedy this situation, and says it will begin treating all text typed while in Incognito mode as private, which means it will not be analysed at all. This is similar to how smartphones treat text typed into secure text fields.

The change will not take effect for some time, since it is currently being applied to the Chromium codebase where it can be tested before being adopted into Google Chrome itself. This contribution to Chromium by Microsoft comes as the company is ramping up its own Chromium-based version of the Microsoft Edge browser, after it decided to abandon its own EdgeHTML rendering engine late last year.

The suggested change to the Chromium codebase was spotted by 9to5Google in the Chromium developers’ message board. The most recent comment in the thread indicates that the change has been submitted by a Microsoft employee, and is being reviewed by peers from within the open-source Chromium organisation.

Both Chromium and Windows already have mechanisms for identifying when typed text should be treated as private, but they needed to be linked. Chromium supports a tag called “shouldDoLearning” which as its name suggests, allows text to be used for pattern learning. Windows 10, on the other hand, has an attribute called “IS_PRIVATE” which allows text to be isolated. There is no equivalent protection for older versions of Windows, which means that private or incognito modes in Web browsers will not be able to respect such a preference.

With this change, text typed within a private browsing session will not be retained beyond the end of that session. Any caches of text will be dumped along with the user’s browsing history, cookies, and other records.

Microsoft has already released previews of its Chromium-based version of Microsoft Edge, and Windows Insider developers and beta programme members can try it out now. Earlier this year, a build of the experimental browser was leaked. Microsoft aims to support Chrome extensions and other popular features, and integrate its own online services into the browser. It is not known when the final product will be ready to replace the current version of Edge, but it be several months at least before that happens.