The “incognito” mode was supposed to keep the secret. But unfortunately, the so-called “incognito” mode does nothing but just stops your smartphone or laptop from saving the browsing history. A study has just revealed that Google, Facebook, and Oracle Cloud are keeping the track of your porn browsing even if you are using the “incognito” mode.

A recently conducted joint study from Microsoft, the University of Pennsylvania, and Carnegie Mellon University over 22,484 sex websites revealed that around 93 percent of the pages on these websites were tracking and leaking users’ data to third-party companies. All these sex websites were investigated using a tool known as “webXray”.

A researcher who discovered 230 names of different companies and services that were tracking their sample users said, “Tracking on these sites are highly concentrated by a handful of major companies.”

The Findings From The Study

If we talk about the non-pornography-specific services, 74 percent sites are tracked by Google, 24 percent by Oracle, and 10 percent by Facebook.

Coming to the porn-specific services, exoClick was tracking 40 percent of the sites, JuicyAds 11 percent, and EroAdvertising 9 percent.

The study said, “The majority of non-pornography companies in the top 10 are based in the US, while the majority of pornography-specific companies are based in Europe.”

The researchers including Elena Maris from Microsoft Research, Timothy Libert from Carnegie Mellon University, and Jennifer Henrichsen from the University of Pennsylvania said they successfully managed to extract privacy policies for 17 percent of the total sites which counts exactly 3,856 sites.

The study said, “The policies were written in such a way that one might need a two-year college education to understand them. The content analysis indicated 44.97 percent of them expose or suggest a specific gender/sexual identity or interest likely to be linked to the user.” 

The team started by creating a hypothetical profile named “Jack” who watches porn on his laptop with “incognito” mode turned ON. Assuming that he is browsing private now, he opens up a site, scrolls through a small privacy policy link. Thinking that the privacy policy is now protecting his personal information, Jack moves forward by clicking a video. 

The researchers further noted, “What Jack does not know is that incognito mode only ensures his browsing history is not stored on his computer. The sites he visits, as well as any third-party trackers, may observe and record his online actions.”

Now Jack’s sexual interests can be inferred from the site URLs he accessed by these third parties and they can be further used to market products or making a consumer profile. They can even sell the data. 

The researchers wrote, “His assumption that porn websites will protect his information, along with the reassurance of the ‘incognito’ mode icon on his screen, provide Jack a fundamentally misleading sense of privacy as he consumes porn online.”

They further stated that these numbers give us an idea of how porn sites can promote data tracking and leaking to a wide level, without the users suspecting it. 

Pornhub was, and still is, one of the largest porn websites. In 2017, the website had 28.5 billion visits with over 50,000 searches done every second.

There are different statistics available all over the internet about porn activity, but a reliable 2017 report stated that porn websites receive more visitors than Netflix, Twitter, and Amazon combines. Moreover, according to this report, “30 percent of all the data transferred across the Internet is porn”. 

“While the findings of this study are far from encouraging, we do believe regulatory intervention may have positive outcomes,” stated the researchers.