You might open a new browser window in Incognito Mode and think you’ve just vanished under a cloak of darkness with all your internetting perfectly hidden from the world. Sorry to burst your bubble, pal, but no. The various “private” options web browsers provide are not a panacea for your privacy concerns. In fact, you may be shocked to learn how little protection they actually provide from prying eyes, but there are still good reasons to use them. Today we’re going to dive into what these private browsing modes do, and what they don’t.
All of the major web browsers out there have a private mode. In Chrome, it’s called Incognito Mode. Microsoft’s Explorer and Edge browsers both have “InPrivate” mode. For Firefox and Opera browsers, it’s called “Private Browsing.” Well, a rose by any other name would smell as… uh, insecure? Yeah, let’s go with that. There are subtle nuances between these different offerings, but they ultimately all pretty much do the same thing.
Simply put, these private viewing modes will hide your internet activity from others who might look at your actual computer. That is, family members, coworkers, roommates, and such. We’re talking about people with physical access to your computer. Incognito Mode and its ilk will not save the websites you visit, the info you might put into forms on those websites for autofill, or the cookies from those websites. For this reason, it’s good for:
Unfortunately, the list of things private browsing modes don’t do is a lot longer. Most of them actually warn you of this when you first open a window, but this is generally ignored by people, so it’s worth spelling out here:
This all isn’t to say that private browsing is bad or useless, it’s just important to understand its limitations. If you really do need a more secure way to browse the web, there are tools that can help, like a VPN, which we’ll be getting into in future posts.