The following is a transcript of the Google meeting where Incognito Mode was first introduced.
Jack Ingles, Chief Technical Officer: Thanks for finding time in your schedules to join us today everyone. I’m going to hand this right off to John.
John Cline, Lead Browsing Experience Engineer: Thanks Jack. And thank you all for coming today. I recently told Jack about a new add-on for our Chrome browser that I’ve been developing in my spare time, and he suggested we get everyone together so I could walk you through it and see what you think.
Pushes a button and a webpage is projected onto a large screen in the conference room.
So for several months I’ve been working on a new kind of browsing experience that I’m calling “Incognito Mode.” This new browsing mode will allow our users to browse the internet with unprecedented levels of privacy.
Dan Felton, Engineer: Great. How does it work?
John: Well, suppose you want to visit a website, but you don’t want there to be any record of you doing so. All you need to do is click here, and viola—a new incognito browsing tab is opened.
A new browsing page is opened. The background of the browser page is black and says “Incognito Mode” at the top. A little image of a cartoon spy also appears on the page.
John: Now within this window you can browse the web as you normally do, but unlike normal browsing, nothing you type here will be stored in your browsing history and there will be no cookies stored from the sites.
Dan: Oh, that’s clever.
John: Thanks. I’ve spent quite a long time developing it.
Jack: And how do you imagine this might help our customers? What use cases are you thinking of here?
John: Well, let’s say you wanted to buy your wife a necklace from Tiffany’s but you didn’t want her to find any record that you’d visited the Tiffany & Co website? Just use Incognito Mode to make the purchase and she’ll never be the wiser.
Jack: Oh that’s good. Very good.
Jack: Any other use cases?
John: Well, I’m still kind of fleshing this out.
Dan: Okay, this is just an idea, but maybe some of our users would find this helpful when they visit online pornography sites?
John: Yes, well, that was something I was thinking about in the back of my mind.
Jack: Excellent point, Dan. So, John, using your browser, someone could visit www-dot-victorian-era-themed-sex-parties-dot-com, and that wouldn’t be recorded in your browsing history?
John: Well, yes, that site wouldn’t be recorded in your history.
Jack: Even if you visited it several times a day over the course of several years?
John: Well, yes, it doesn’t really matter how many times. As long as you are always using Incognito Mode.
Jack: But if you forget to open the Incognito Mode, would it still remember to not store your history?
John: Well, no, if you went to www-dot-victorian-era-themed-sex-parties-dot-com in a normal browsing window it would be recorded in your history.
Jack: Are you sure?
John: Yes, I’m sure.
Jack: Okay. Any other ideas for use cases?
Dan: John, just throwing out a random situation here, but let’s say you wanted to visit an online sex shop and order five inflatable dolls all dressed like different members of The Village People and a Fifty Shades of Grey Sex Toy 10th Anniversary Edition Collector set. If you did all this while in Incognito Mode then there would be no way of anyone ever knowing about it?
John: There’d be no record in your browsing history of visiting that online sex shop.
Dan: Awesome. And, like, using Incognito Mode would make it impossible for your wife to discover the blow up dolls and sex toys hidden in the attic space above the guest room closet?
John: Um, well, no. It only affects what’s stored in your browser. It doesn’t help you hide sex dolls and sex toys from your wife.
Dan: Oooh. That’s a bummer.
Favio Maota, Browsing Ad Sales: John, Favio Maota, from sales here. What if I wanted to visit a site that sold enriched uranium? Like weapons-grade uranium, preferably 82 percent enrichment or more, at a volume discount of $20,934 per gram? Would it help with that?
John: Again, it wouldn’t be stored in your local browser history, but it doesn’t prevent people, or the government, from tracking activity on other computers, like the sellers’ computers.
Favio: But you said it was incognito. Is it incognito or isn’t it?
Dan: You did say it’s incognito. The background is black and you even have a little picture of a spy on the page. I don’t think it’s crazy to think our customers may assume that any online uranium purchases made using your program would be invisible to the government.
John: I… why do you think our Google customers are going to be trying to buy weapons-grade enriched uranium? That’s completely illegal and insane.
Jack: Hey John, relax. Everyone here is just trying to understand what this Incognito Mode actually does, okay? That’s the goal of this meeting, okay? So maybe run us through it again. What it does, and does not, do.
John: Okay, okay. Well, it does stop your browser from tracking websites you visit and storing data in your cache. But it does not stop the sites you are visiting from tracking you, or government agencies from monitoring highly illegal sales of weapons, uranium, plutonium, or anything like that. It doesn’t stop spyware that might already be loaded on your device from recording your keystrokes. It only affects what your browser saves.
Jack: Right, right. Great.
Richard Yothers, Head of Browsing Products: Let me throw out another hypothetical use case.
John: Okay, sure.
Richard: What about a situation where you found your wife, Donna, cheating on you with the guys who cleans your pool, and you’ve spent six months plotting how to kill her and decide to hire an environmentally conscientious assassin online who specializes in using garottes made from recycled plastic? Would you say that your Incognito Mode would help cover your tracks sufficiently to prevent any possible indictments?
John: That is… such a specific hypothetical. Wait, isn’t your wife named Donna? Richard, are you planning to kill Donna?!
Richard: Yeah, of course her name is Donna. That’s why it came to mind first. You’ve been to our house for dinner! I’m just saying, like hypothetically.
John: No. At least I really hope it would not help you cover your tracks sufficiently to avoid possible indictments for hiring an assassin to kill your wife.
Richard: Okay, but is that something we could implement with the next gen product?
Richard: Okay, geez. I thought we were just spitballing here.
Jack: Pardon our frustration, John. We are just trying to tease out what this new product of yours really does.
John: I told you, it prevents any searches or websites from being stored in your history.
Jack: So, it just automatically clears your browsing history? Saves you the hassle of clicking on the drop downs to manually clear it yourself?
Jack looks around the room.
Jack: Well. That’s not nothing.
Dan: John, I’m just wondering if people are going to understand that all this thing does is automatically clear your browsing history. I mean, I’m looking at the thing, and I’m pretty sure it can do a lot more than you are saying. I bet it could probably route all searches through ad hoc virtual ISPs and maybe even enlist a botnet to do denial-of-service attacks on authorities who might be trying to monitor your actions.
John: No. Sorry. It cannot do any of those things.
Favio: Are you sure? You might try testing out an online uranium purchase. See how it holds up.
Nods and affirmations from everyone in the room.
Jack: Good point. Maybe worth a try. Really kick the tires, you know?
John: What the fuck?! I’m not going to try to buy uranium online to test my program! I designed this thing. I know what it can and can’t do.
Jack: John we just want to make sure you aren’t selling your product short, is all.
[John sags in his seat, looking totally defeated.]
Jack: Hey, cheer up. Great work here, John. You’ve built something really special here. Let’s get it into the production pipeline ASAP. We can do the uranium sales testing while it’s in BETA.