Internet users who want to surf the Net in incognito mode usually have to explicitly enable the appropriate privacy settings in their browser to avoid being tracked. A new technology from Google may soon eliminate that step.
The Internet giant has just been granted a patent for a method that would enable private browsing automatically when users visit or interact with certain Websites or Web pages.
The patent describes the technology as a computer-implemented method for giving browsers the ability to automatically open a Web page in full privacy mode based on the content of the Web page and with no explicit action needed by the user.
Browsers equipped with the technology will be able to discern when content on a page might prompt a user to opt for private browsing, Google noted in an abstract describing the technology. The browser will analyze a "plurality of identifiers" pertaining to the Web page that a user is on to determine if conditions exist for the page to be opened in privacy mode.
"The privacy mode can be enabled to prevent storage of webpage user information generated as the user browses the webpage," Google's description noted. The decision to open or not open a page in privacy mode is done entirely by the browser when the user requests a page. The user does not need to do anything explicitly to enable the privacy mode.
The patent covers a user request manager that handles user requests to open a page, a privacy mode enabler that determines when privacy settings should be enabled and a Web page renderer that opens the page in a manner specified by the privacy enabler.
The privacy mode enabler looks at browser metadata, the URL of a Web page and other data to determine the appropriate privacy settings. For example, when the metadata identifies adult content or when a Web page has been previously blocked by a user or opened in a private mode, the browser will automatically render the page with heightened privacy protections.
In addition, users will be able to define when a Web page should be opened in private mode. "For example, the user may define that any web page that requests the user's credit card number in the metadata should generate an increased requirement of privacy," the patent noted.
Google, which has often found itself the target of criticism over its privacy intrusions, could actually win some friends with the latest innovation. The company did not respond to a request seeking more details on the patented method, when or if the company plans to integrate the method into its browsers, and whether the feature will be available on both the desktop and mobile versions of its Chrome browser.
The timing though is opportune. Concerns over online tracking and behavioral profiling by Internet advertisers are running high among consumers and privacy groups. Over the past year or so, several organizations have put forth tools to help consumers evade online tracking. Examples include the Electronic Privacy Information Center's (EPIC) Privacy Badger, Ghostery's browser plug-in and a similar tool from Disconnect for blocking trackers.
Marc Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC, said Google's newly patented approach appears to be a good one. "It is an example of a 'Privacy Enhancing Technique' that EPIC has long supported," he said in emailed comments.
"The goal with [privacy enhancing technologies] is to minimize or eliminate the collection of personally identifiable information. In this context, the aim is likely to reduce the risk of credit card and identify theft, particularly in circumstances involving public terminals," he said.
What's not clear though is why Google should have a patent for this technology, Rotenberg added. "It should be widely deployed in all web browsers."
The Next Web was the first to report on the new patent.