Ask LH: Can I Track My Incognito-Mode-Using-Coworker?

Ask LH: Can I Track My Incognito-Mode-Using-Coworker?

Dear Lifehacker, Is there any way I can track or see the history of which sites someone has accessed through Chrome’s Incognito mode? If my coworker isn’t yelling at me over nothing, she’s on Perez Hilton or shopping for clothes or on Twitter or updating her blog — all while using Incognito. I don’t actually know what she is being employed for when 90 per cent of the time she does no work. I don’t want to get her fired (at least not immediately anyway). I just want to put together a dossier of sorts. Thanks, Disgruntled

Dear Disgruntled,

I’m going to answer your question in three stages.

No, you can’t easily track what your coworker is doing in Incognito mode. In order to be able to do that, you’d need to install some kind of tracking or keylogging software on her machine. First and foremost, that’s at least as unethical as what she’s apparently doing. Secondly, chances are you wouldn’t be able to install it anyway if you’re in a workplace with any kind of IT infrastructure in place, since the work PC environment is probably locked down against new installations. Even if it isn’t, security software is likely to block installing those kinds of tools.

Your work IT department probably can see what’s happening. Incognito mode might keep sites out of Chrome’s history, but all the site lookups would still be accessible (with a little work) by IT staff. But that’s not going to happen unless you’ve already made a complaint and management decides it’s worth the effort to investigate. And that’s really the crux of the issue here: if your colleague is being genuinely unproductive, you need to speak out about it in an appropriate fashion, not by assembling a ‘dossier’ of bad behaviour that you want for apparently vague purposes.

If you have issues with a coworker, they need addressing directly. The fact of the matter is that we’re not going to get on with or like all of our colleagues equally. In the scenario you describe (and taking your descriptions at face value), there’s a couple of things you can do.

If your workflow is essentially independent of your colleague, then you should basically just ignore her and get on with your job (and life). You clearly don’t like her much; it appears she doesn’t like you much either. Trying to get her busted for her online habits is not going to improve that scenario.

If your coworker’s constant non-work activity (online or otherwise) is actually directly impacting your productivity, then the appropriate thing to do is to alert a manager that it’s an issue. Don’t make it a big personal issue; just say something like “Carly seems to spend a lot of time web surfing, and it’s impacting our ability to get work done”. Ideally, cite specific examples of projects that haven’t been completed or areas you’ve had to do extra work in.

Then leave it to management to sort out. Constantly harping on it will make you look bad. If the person is actually senior to you, check out our post on how to complain about your boss.

There’s a strong “don’t be a dobber” culture in some Australian workplaces, and that might be holding you back. But you can’t really have it both ways. If it’s more important to you for other colleagues to respect your adherence to that norm, then you’ll just have to put up with your coworker’s Perez-loving ways. Though that does lead to the final question: if you’ve got enough time to notice that she’s apparently not working 90 per cent of the time, how productive are you actually being?

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • I don’t really see why you would want to do this, but here’s a couple of ways you *could* do it.

    Install Wireshark or something similar and get it to log HTTP/S traffic
    Configure their browser to point to a HTTP proxy under your control
    Configure their computer to point to a DNS server under your control

    Or you know, you could just raise the issue with your boss…

  • The whole ‘don’t be a dobber’ thing is a really bad aspect of office life in Australia. It lets so many people get away with really inappropriate behavior towards co-workers.

    The original email states that the co-worker is “yelling at me over nothing”. I would suggest this is the place to start when complaining to your boss and add the internet misuse as an aside, as they won’t take that very seriously in itself; in fact they will probably assume you are exaggerating.

    But they may well investigate it in addition to the other stuff. Just make sure you mention they are doing it in ‘private’ mode otherwise they won’t find anything.

  • This reads to me as nothing more than an ad for Google Chrome by flouting it’s ‘Incognito mode’ feature.

    It’s actually a great feature though so flout away 😉

      • Yeah every major web browser offers a private browsing option, but aside from tech heads most people wouldn’t even know it’s there.

        The article read to me as though ‘Incognito mode’ was providing some sort of great new ability for people to web browse without leaving a digital trail, and as well all know most men have a vested interest in being able to hide their browsing habbits 😛

  • Just go to your boss and say “I think you need to talk to XYZ about her Internet usage, she is on the Internet 90% of the day” and leave it at that.

    If you are not authorised to monitor her web activity then you are more likely to get yourself fired if you spy on her without authoristation. I even question the legality of you snooping on her activity.

    If I had an employee that spied on another employee and they came to me with a dossier of their behaviour. I would be asking them “Why are you building dossiers instead of working? Did I even ask you to do this?” … then I’d get rid of you and the slacker 🙂

    Having disgruntled workers like you is just as toxic (or more toxic) to the workplace as having slackers.

  • Hi, I have Google Chrome on my computer as welll as TeamViewer. Is there any way for me to find out if somebody is visiting websites and posting things about me without my knowledge? This is a very real concern for me as I’ve been accused of doing illicit things in the past based on somebody else’s lies and I want to be able to protect myself in future.

    Thank you very much for any feedback you may be able to give.

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