Private Browsing Isn’t So Private

By | September 7, 2016
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Private Browsing Isn’t So Private

Surprisingly, despite the names the Big Three browsers give to private browsing modes – Internet Explorer’s In-private Browsing mode, Google’s Incognito mode and Firefox’s Private Browsing mode – there’s really not much private about private browsing. Every site you visit is tracked by your ISP regardless of whether you’re using a private mode, and your browser, even in its private mode is broadcasting your IP address (and thus your location) and your browser type, operating system and other information to every Web site you visit. The only thing that really separates a browser’s private mode from its normal mode is that your browsing history and cookies are not saved to your computer. This is true only if you don’t have extensions enabled in private modes.

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Many extensions, track your browsing history and store it somewhere on your computer as well as on connected servers on the Internet. So, browsing in private mode with a lot of add-ons or extension may defeat any privacy gained by using a private browsing mode in any one of the major browsers. Fortunately, Internet Explorer and Chrome both disable browser extensions by default in their private modes; Firefox, however, does not, and this provides the vehicle for private information to be leaked.

If you really want to be private (anonymous) on the Internet, don’t rely on a browser’s private mode. Google warns users of its Incognito mode that:

You’ve gone incognito. Pages you view in this window won’t appear in your browser history or search history, and they won’t leave other traces, like cookies, on your computer after you close all open incognito windows. Any files you download or bookmarks you create will be preserved, however.

  1. Going incognito doesn’t affect the behavior of other people, servers, or software. Be wary of:
  2. .Websites that collect or share information about you
  3. Internet service providers or employers that track the pages you visit
  4. Malicious software that tracks your keystrokes in exchange for free smileys
  5. Surveillance by secret agents
  6. People standing behind you

Because Google Chrome does not control how extensions handle your personal data, all extensions have been disabled for incognito windows. You can re-enable them individually in the extensions manager.

Internet Explorer says this about its In-Private browsing feature:

InPrivate Browsing can help keep your browsing history private on shared computers such as at home, or in an Internet café or public kiosk. History data that is accumulated while browsing the web in an Internet Explorer InPrivate window, such as temporary Internet files, web address history, or cookies, will be removed when you close the window. History in other Internet Explorer windows (not using InPrivate), will not be affected.

The InPrivate Browsing experience prevents local storage on your computer of the following:

New cookies are not stored

New history entries will not be recorded

New temporary Internet files will be deleted after the InPrivate Browsing window is closed

Form data is not stored

Entered passwords are not stored

Addresses typed into the Address bar are not stored

Queries entered into the search box are not stored

InPrivate Browsing is not designed to obscure your identity to your internet provider or web servers on the Internet. It does not prevent data, such as your IP address, from being sent to websites you visit.

It’s easy to see that private browsing really isn’t very private. But it doesn’t seem that many are interested in private browsing, and maybe that’s a good thing, because really it’s more of a false sense of security than a way to protect your privacy.

Research by Stanford University to investigate the privacy of the “private browsing” feature of popular Web browsers found that the tools aren’t very private after all, and that many kinds of information can be leaked by browsers when using the mode.

The use of private browsing also varied wildly between browsers. Internet Explorer users barely bothered—just 2 percent of them use it, even for X-rated sites—whereas some 14 percent of Safari users prefer to keep their dirty/gift-buying habits to themselves. (Safari, once available to Windows users is now — basically — an Apple OS browser.)

It seems that private browsing modes are basically there because as the name “private browsing” seems to suggest it will increase the privacy of its users, but it doesn’t. It’s something akin to security programs finding 66 items during a scan, and then learning that all 66 are tracking cookies. Those 66 “tracking cookies” were never a threat to the user’s privacy in the first place.

About the only thing Private Browsing is good for is that your browsing history and other cached items, like cookies, are not saved, thus less clean-up. As far as privacy goes, it really does nothing.

So, whether you use your browser’s private mode or not, at least you now know what it does and what it does not do. It does not do as its name suggests — it does not obfuscate your identity on the Internet. So now that you know, if privacy is important to you, you’ll have to find a different way to protect your privacy on the Web. There are ways to protect your privacy, like Virtual Private Networks — but those are really more geared toward advanced users who understand the concept of VPN and tunneling. For most of you VPNs are not necessary.

5 thoughts on “Private Browsing Isn’t So Private

  1. Barb

    Does it matter if Google or anyone else knows where I visit on the internet? I don’t go anywhere that I’d be ashamed to admit. At worst, I might click something on YouTube and wish I hadn’t. We already have our details on the internet by means of electronic payment devices. I wouldn’t waste my time trying to remain anonymous, but it’s good to know the true facts of the matter. Thank you for explaining them.

    Reply
  2. JoninOz

    Hi TC & Darcy (Extra Beautiful)

    I have come to a decision, I don’t want to be anonymous, I have a place in this world, I am an honourable citizen, I have never committed a crime and I respect those who respect me.
    I would like to post comments in forums in relation to our politicians, telling them how dis-honourable they are
    as servants of the people, and when they are elected, they are sworn into office promising to serve The People and Abide By Blah, Blah, Blah…….and in God they trust.
    They are in contempt of a God, they do NOT abide by God’s rules, they make laws against the wishes of The People, they steal from the people by spending taxpayer’s money as their own, they deny the country’s citizens the freedom of speech, they allow people of different races into the country without due process, they allow polygamy and pay bilions of dollars in welfare to these people and leave the country’s homeless, poverty stricken and poor in sub-human conditions ….. their own fellow countrymen and women while providing a fair-level standard of accommodation to those who can say, “REFUGEE” and RACIST, RACIST to the citizens of the country whose forefathers’ sweated blood and tears to establish a tiny corner of the world to call their own.
    I don’t want to be anonymous, I want to be seen and heard because I am a much better person than those who were elected, those who dominate, those in government office who steal from the poor to keep their ‘buddies’ wealthy along with themselves.
    I do not want to be a ‘nothing’ person, I REFUSE to be a slave to The Establishment, I will NEVER BE ANONYMOUS, I will say what I think and believe, anywhere, anytime.

    Thanks TC & EB for all the years of you CloudeEght commitment.

    Kind Wishes,

    JoninOz

    Reply
  3. patrick

    Something you don’t cover so much when it comes to privacy is the use of a VPN. Using one would resolve the private issue. There’s free and paid packages and if you subscribe to any of them they are extremely inexpensive.

    Reply
    1. infoave Post author

      VPN is mentioned in our article. Most of our readers don’t need VPNs…

      Reply

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