When browsing the internet, a lot of individuals use privacy-protecting browser settings, such as “Private Browsing” in Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and Apple Safari, “Incognito” in Google Chrome, and “InPrivate” in Microsoft Edge.
These secret browsing tools are well-liked and they have a comforting sound. A 2017 survey found that the majority of American internet users who have used private browsing mode do it frequently.
Our research has revealed, however, that many users of private browsing have misconceptions about the level of protection they are receiving. It’s a popular misperception that these browser settings enable anonymous web browsing, where websites can’t identify you and your employer or internet service provider can’t see what websites you visit. The protections offered by the tools are somewhat more constrained.
Similar results have been found in other research by the Pew Research Center and the privacy-protective search engine provider DuckDuckGo. In fact, a new lawsuit against Google claims that when utilizing Chrome’s Incognito mode, internet users are not receiving the privacy protection they expect.
How it works
Private browsing modes all have one thing in common: once you close the private browsing window, your browser no longer saves the websites you visited, cookies, user names, passwords, and data from forms you filled out during that private browsing session. The specific implementation varies from browser to browser, but this is the general idea behind them.
In essence, every time you open a new private browsing window, you are presented with a “clean slate” in the form of a fresh browser window that has not yet been configured to retain any cookies or browsing history.
The browsing history and cookies from that private browsing session are erased when you close your private browsing window, starting from scratch once more. However, if you download a file or bookmark a website while in private browsing mode, those items will stay on your computer.
Private browsing mode does not ensure that your online activity cannot be traced back to you or your device, even if some browsers, like Safari and Firefox, provide some additional security against web trackers.
Notably, the private browsing mode does not stop websites from discovering your IP address, nor does it stop your employer, institution of higher study, or internet service provider from monitoring your online actions.
Reasons to Use It
We carried out a research study to determine the motivations for private browsing. The majority of survey participants wished to keep other users of their devices from seeing their browsing history or personal information. Actually, private browsing works rather well for this.
According to our research, consumers frequently utilize private browsing to access websites or carry out searches that they do not want other users of their device to see, such as those that might be humiliating or pertain to a surprise gift. Additionally, if you remember to shut the window after you are finished, private browsing provides a simple way to log out of websites when using someone else’s device.
Smartphone Displaying Google Incognito Mode
When you close the browser, your browsing history and cookies are instantly deleted, which can help you hide your online activity. Getty Images through Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket
Additionally, any searches you conduct while not connected to your Google account will not be saved to your account history and will have no impact on subsequent Google search results. Similar to this, watching a video on YouTube or another service while in private browsing has no impact on the recommendations you receive while browsing normally as long as you are not logged into that service.
What It Doesn’t Do
Online anonymity cannot be achieved through private surfing. Your surfing activity is visible to everyone who has access to your internet traffic, including your school or employer, your internet service provider, government organizations, and individuals monitoring your public wireless connection. More advanced techniques that utilize encryption, including virtual private networks, are needed to protect that activity.
Additionally, private browsing provides few security safeguards. It does not stop you from downloading malware or viruses on your device, in particular. Additionally, private browsing does not provide any additional security when you submit an online form and send your credit card number or other sensitive personal data to a website.
It’s also crucial to keep in mind that the longer you leave your private browsing window active, the more cookies and browsing information it gathers, lessening the privacy protection it offers. So that you may start fresh, make it a habit to periodically close your private surfing window.
What’s in A Name
People often have misconceptions about how private browsing modes operate since the name “private” implies much greater security than what these modes actually offer.
Additionally, a 2018 research study discovered that the disclaimers displayed on the landing pages of private browsing windows do little to dispel misunderstandings regarding these modes.
Chrome offers more details about what is and is not protected than the majority of other browsers, and Mozilla now includes a link to a page that debunks some frequent misconceptions regarding private browsing.
Without modifying the name of the browsing mode and emphasizing that private browsing merely prevents your browser from recording your browsing activity and isn’t a complete privacy barrier, it might be challenging to dispel all of these misconceptions.
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