Google and Facebook are tracking users’ porn viewing habits even if they’re using a browser in Incognito Mode, according to a recent study.
The study analyzed more than 20,248 pornography websites, with the investigation’s results revealing 93 percent of the sites included in the investigation leaked user browsing data to third-parties.
This data is then used to create “detailed profiles” of user browsing habits, including personal information like sexual interests, which is often sold to companies for targeted advertising, according to the study. Further, in most cases, users are not aware that this data is being collected. Google APIs, including those related to analytics, were found on 50 percent of the websites that were part of the study.
“Google refuses to host porn, but has no limits on observing the porn consumption of users, often without their knowledge,” the research team wrote in the paper.
Finally, the research paper indicates that Google runs tracking services on roughly 74 percent of the pornography websites included in the study. On the other hand, Facebook only ran trackers on approximately 10 percent.
While many assume that Incognito Mode and other private browsing features prevent this sort of tracking, the popular features really only stop browsers from saving user search history. This means that websites, ISPs and other trackers are still aware of browsing habits. A study from August of last year by Vanderbilt University uncovered similar findings, revealing that Google collects information when users log into the tech giant’s various services, even when the user is in Incognito Mode.
“The user data often suggests or reveals gender/sexual identities or interests represented in the porn site URL accessed, and thus poses an additional risk if tracked and assumptions about users’ sexual identities/interests are linked to personal identifying information,” wrote the research team.
The study was conducted by researchers from Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pennsylvania.