Privacy Tip #4: How private is incognito browsing?
The answer: Not private at all.
You probably use an incognito or private browsing tab in your browser every once in a while. The majority of the people using incognito-mode however don't really understand what this mode does and does not do. This post will explain what private browsing does and what you can do to really surf the web incognito.
An incognito/private browsing tab is fine to hide your (embarrasing) internet history for your partner, parents, kids or roommates, but that is about all it will do for you. All your internet traffic still travels over the same wire. Your employer, internet provider and various websites/trackers still know which sites you visit. So remain careful what sites you visit in an incognito-tab!
Ok. What doesn't it do then?
- It does not prevent you being tracked by websites or spying ads.
- It does not prevent search engines being able to view and store your search queries.
- It does not prevent websites seeing your IP-address.
- It does not hide or protect your identity.
- It does not prevent websites from determining your location.
😰 So what can a private browsing session do for me?
- It does not save the internet history for that session in your browser.
- It starts with a clean slate without cookies, so you are not logged in anywhere (this prevents being tracked a litte bit).
- ... erh, not so much else.
But I do want to browse the web incognito! How would I do that?
Luckily there are plenty ways to surf the web anonymously, but it requires some work. For each point of the list above I will explain what you can do about it.
Prevent being tracked by websites or spying ads
- Use a browser that has a "Do No Track" options built-in like Firefox or Brave (Google Chrome-alternative for desktop and mobile).
- Install the Privacy Badger plugin that blocks trackers and spying ads.
- For the nerds: Install Pi-Hole on one of the Raspberry Pi's you have laying around and add it to your home/office network.
Prevent search engines being able to view and store your search queries
Use a privacy friendly search engine like DuckDuckGo or Startpage.
Prevent websites seeing your IP-address
Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). In a nutshell, a VPN is a secured tunnel for all your internet traffic. At the end of the tunnel there is an other IP-address that's being used by multiple other users. This way it is not possible to trace the traffic back to your personal IP-address. Here is a list of some of the best VPN services of this moment.
Protect your identity
Use Tor, it is a browser that is build to surf the internet anonymously. I would advice you to get acquainted with the principles and background of Tor before you start using it. For a large part of the userbase Tor is critical for their work (journalists) or even lives (citizens in a dictatorship). In some countries it could trigger some alarm bells when using this browser.
Prevent websites from finding out your location
Using a VPN or surfing with Tor can help prevent this. See the points above.
What a hassle!
Browsing the web safely and secure should be a basic human right in my opinion. Unfortunately there are many companies and politicians who prioritize making money with your data over protecting your digital identity. That way of thinking results in a rather complex and technical landscape to safely find your way on the internet.
However, if you are reading this, you are on the right track! Please let me know if this article has helped you and pass it along to your friends and family. So they too can enjoy the wonders of the web in a secure manner.
This article is part of my Privacy tips
I've committed myself to raising awareness about online privacy for my dear friends, family and everybody who is willing to listen. Helping them in an approachable way to take back control of your online presence.
Are you interested in taking matters into your own hands, but don't know where to start? Schedule a Privacy Talk with me and we'll work it out!