Dan Arel is a journalist, author, and privacy advocate. He’s also the owner of ThinkPrivacy.ch
One of the most misunderstood features on most modern browsers is Private Mode, sometimes called incognito mode. When I am offering advice on measures people can take in their privacy such as using a private search engine or a VPN, I am told, “I don’t need those, I use incognito mode.”
Worse, I have seen people in office environments using private browsing on their work computers, visiting personal sites like social media or shopping.
This is because a vast majority of people who use private browsing, unfortunately, don’t understand the limitations of the feature. In a recent study, 54% of people who use private browsing claim to use it to hide from the websites they visit, while 20% used it to hide from the internet provider: two things private browsing absolutely does not protect users from.
What private browsing users need to understand is that the feature only works locally on the device level. It does not cover up the tracks of their comprehensive digital profile. It can hide your history, cookies, and login information only from people with access to the same computer as you.
If you visit a non-private search engine in private browsing, it can still see your IP address, browser information, and use previous data it has collected on you to serve you ads or search results. To the search engine, nothing about your experience is private. The same goes for your ISP, IT department at work, or anyone else snooping on your web traffic.
What the private browsing feature will do, is ensure that when you
close the window, your cookies are deleted, your logins are expired and
you’re signed out without saved login information, and that your
browsing history is no longer accessible. If another person opened
another private browsing window, nothing about your last use would be
accessible to them.
In summary, in private browsing has led many to a false sense of security.
For those users looking for the best way to keep search engines and
the companies who own them from tracking you, it is important to use to a
privacy respecting search engine such as Startpage, the world’s first
private search engine. Users can also take advantage of features like
“Anonymous View” a feature exclusive to Startpage which allows users to
visit a website through a proxy server that hides the users’ IP, browser
information, and other identifiable information from the website.
How is Startpage’s “Anonymous View” different from private browsing?
When it comes to protecting your personal data online, you must take
product. As more users become conscious of privacy concerns, more
companies will off features and products featuring the word privacy, but
that will not mean they offer your any.
Private browsing or Incognito Mode serves an important purpose, but
the name can be misleading and too much of the marketing around it can
be vague. There is a great deal of room for improvement in communication and setting expectations by these companies.
Regardless of their intentions, until companies begin to honestly
care about user privacy, much of the onus will still fall on users to
educate themselves and find the tools that better fit their privacy
Dan Arel is a consultant for Startpage.com