You have seen this as an option on your internet browser before or it may be completely new to you. But what does this mean and why would I use this?
What is private browsing?
Commonly defined as a private mode or incognito mode, it is a feature some web browsers have that allow the user to disable browsing history and web cache. Simply put, it allows a user to browse the web while not storing local data that is normally retrievable later.
The world wide web is an expansive, infinite resource of information, and it's quite dependent on one thing: You.
When you open your browser and visit websites there is a lot of information that is provided to that company, and for the most part, unknowingly. There are a lot of moving parts when browsing is going on. Generally, your browser retains the following information:
- History - autofill, browsing, downloading, and personal information.
- Searches - Prior browsing history, networks or friends’ recommendations which help weight and more highly rank particular results than others.
- Cookies - by definition, a packet of data sent by an Internet server to a browser, which is returned by the browser each time it subsequently accesses the same server, used to identify the user or track their access to the server.
- Cache - where data is essentially stored, an auxiliary memory from which high-speed retrieval is possible.
- Active Logins - your email(s), username(s), passwords that are retained each time you log into a website.
- Offline Website Data - whatever the website you’re visiting wants to store on your computer. Depending on your definition of malicious, harmless or neutral the website has permission to do things like place files that can track your location.
- Site Preferences - if the website asks you to remember your location and you say ‘Yes’ then you are accepting that your location will be stored for as long as the website wants to keep track of you.
Why would I need to use private browsing on a web browser?
- If you use a public computer at your school’s library a private browser will prevent other users from stumbling upon your activity.
- If you are a tester for a website you can utilize private browsing windows to test specific features or behaviors that is needed for a website.
- If you’re at a local coffee shop installing some java (haha), and surfing the shop’s public wifi, keep your information private while you work.
Using private browsing prevents the aforementioned items from being retained by your browser. The most common web browsers have private browsing: IE9, IE10, IE11, Firefox, Chrome and Safari. Here are the descriptions of each browser that is offered on their latest versions:
Internet Explorer - ‘InPrivate’
Open Internet Explorer and hold Ctrl + Shift + P and a private window will open.
Google Chrome - ‘Incognito Window’.
Open Chrome and hold Ctrl + Shift + N
(Hold Command key + Shift + N for Mac)
Firefox - ‘New Private Window’ or ‘Privacy Mode’
Open Firefox and hold Ctrl + Shift + P
(Hold Command key + Shift + N for Mac)
Safari - ‘Private Browsing Mode’ (available on Macbook, iPad and iPhone)
Open Safari and hold Command key + Shift + N
On iPad, iPhone open Safari and press the tabs icon and then click ‘Private’. (Turn off private browsing by tapping the Private icon again.)
There are some important things to remember when using private browsing:
You will still be tracked. Things like cookies and browsing history are cleared when you close the window, but this does not hide your IP (Internet Protocol) address and logins. Search engines will remember what you have searched for. Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) can still see what you’re looking at. Advertisers can still build profiles based on your behaviors.
Last, this information can still be requested by the government which effectively negates any private browsing you may or may not do. Surf safe and surf smart out there.
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