One of the most commonly used tools across all of the different consumer browsers available today has become private browsing, where users can open a new tab that will allegedly not record anything you browse on it into your history. It will also not save your searches. This allows you to browse to their hearts content without worrying about someone else checking in on their history if a shared computer is being used.
This has its obvious benefits, but it may also lead readers into a false sense of security as to what they are able to do online without anyone noticing. Before you start using private browsing regularly, you need to know the facts and just what it protects you against.
Here are the main things you need to know about private browsing:
What Exactly Does It Hide?
In short, it really doesn’t hide anything at all, it just leaves no obvious record on your browser. If anyone, such as your employer or your internet service provider, were to check the records of your online activity, they would still be able to find exactly what you were up to. Look at the screenshot below taken from the home page of Chrome’s incognito mode. It explicitly says “Going Incognito doesn’t hide your browsing from your employer, your internet service provider, or the websites you visit.” Every other browser’s privacy mode will work in roughly the same way.
Without additional tools and protections on your computer (or smartphone), private browsing is absolutely useless. Hitting the delete history button along with deleting any cookies or temporary files will have the exact same effect as would having used private browsing the entire time. Private browsing is an entirely internal business taking place on your computer, and you need to remember this. You also need to remember that there is always a trace that can be picked up by the right tools, so you cannot be too careful.
Actual Ways to Stay Private
One of the best things that you can do to truly stay private is to equip your computer with a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN is a service that will connect your computer to an offsite secure server. The connection is protected by encryption, not allowing anyone to take a look at what you are sending over a particular network. Your IP address is also masked, and anyone who tries to take a look at what you are doing online, private browsing or no private browsing, will only be able to see that you are using a VPN.
A VPN will protect you on public networks, where your privacy and online security are most at risk. The problem with public networks is that they rarely have any form of protection on them whatsoever, meaning that hackers can easily swoop in, take a seat at the nearest cafÃ© and then, using a simple setup, intercept any data that is coming in to use for their own personal gain. Anything you thought would be private is now in the hands of someone looking to make a profit. Any private online accounts you have could be compromised.
The privacy benefits alone would make a VPN worth the cost, but the protection on public networks make one absolutely necessary. Many VPN service providers will vie for your attention, so you need to cut through the fat of the situation and read some of the best reviews out there on the subject. Doing so will save you a lot of time and hassle.
Consequences of Being Mislead
The consequences of expecting privacy and not getting it can be devastating to you, your career and those close to you. Goodness forbid if you were doing anything highly illegal, but ISPs and major companies are always on the lookout for torrenting and will take legal action against those they can catch uploading or downloading copyright material at high rates. Private browsing in no way protects against this, and you need to consider other tools, such as a VPN or Tor, if you want to torrent frequently.
You may also mistakenly try to use private browsing in order to maintain confidentiality about something you are working on for your employer or client. If information gets out about what you are doing, then you could lose your job, stall your career or find yourself in court for breach of contract. Snoops can easily get around private browsing, and while traces of your activity will be hard to find, anyone monitoring you while you are working will have easy access. You can’t take that kind of risk.
Your personal life can also take poor turns if you aren’t aware of the limitations of private browsing. Only you know exactly what might trigger a problem, but if people find out or infer the wrong information, then you might have an unenviable situation that you have to deal with. Tools can be used to monitor your internet use and habits, especially if someone close to you with access does not trust you. Trust your common sense and wisdom when you are using the internet, and you will be better off in the long run when it comes to your online privacy.Â
Private browsing does have its uses, especially on shared computers. Just don’t let it lure you into a false sense of security or privacy. You need better tools to truly have any sense of privacy online, and you need to learn good habits as well. Keep your data and life under your own control, and make sure that your secrets stay secret. They are not for the internet to know.