While many of us might think that Google doesn’t show you personalized search results when you are logged out or when you are using Incognito mode, the reality is far from it. DuckDuckGo conducted a massive search experiment which clearly shows that Google only shows you results that are in your “filter bubble”.

The privacy-focused search engine says Google does not disregard your search profile – built of years of data on your searches, clicks and other data points – when you try to use Google search even when signed out, which is when Google should ideally not be able to tell who you are.

Sensitive Search Topics Targeted

The filter bubble is particularly pernicious when searching for political topics. That’s because undecided and inquisitive voters turn to search engines to conduct basic research on candidates and issues in the critical time when they are forming their opinions on them,” DDG said.

DuckDuckGo's findings for various search terms
DuckDuckGo’s findings for various search terms

DuckDuckGo asked volunteers in the US to search for sensitive terms such as “gun control”, “immigration”, and “vaccinations” (in that order) in private browsing mode and logged out of Google, and then again in normal usage. The 87 complete result sets showed that Google often disregarded users were signed out when showing results. Google also¬† included links for some participants that it did not include for others, which again shows that its seeing which users are searching for it, something that shouldn’t be happening at all, if you are signed out. Even news links and videos were shown based on your user profile, even when signed out or in incognito.

Personalized Results in Incognito

It goes on to show examples of sensitive search terms in normal mode and in private browsing or when you are logged out. The search results for “gun control” showed 62 variations among 76 participants, with 68% percent of them or around 52 seeing unique results.

This indicates Google had a profile of them and show them relevant search results, which should not be happening. The search results for “vaccinations” showed even fewer variations with 70 out of the 76 participants seeing unique results. In this case, unique results means that Google is showing those results to a particular user – and not to all users as should be the case if the results were truly private.

This definitely proves that Google’s Incognito mode in Chrome or being signed out of Google has little to no effect on the search results you see. It’s important to understand then that Incognito only prevents the search history from being stored locally on your PC, and that¬†Google tailors search results no matter what protection you use. So don’t be surprised if you see very similar results on Google even in Incognito.