What is private web browsing? How does it work actually? Many internet surfers don’t fully understand the importance and workings of private browsing. However, before we explain how private browsing works, we need to understand fully what private surfing is all about. In doing so, we will be focusing on the following areas.
- Meaning of Private Browsing.
- What private web browsing is used for?
- How does it work?
Meaning of private web browsing
What comes to mind when we talk about private browsing is simply a privacy feature that allows one to surf the web without leaving any trace of one’s browsing history. This is also known as incognito mode. In this mode, a person can explore the web for as long as they want, without storing local data that can be retrieved later. It is, however, important to know that this privacy protection feature does not go beyond the boundaries of the browser application itself as traces of data can be left on the hard drive and memory. Not to mention, it does not provide privacy on the visited websites as the IP address and activities are logged there as well.
What is private browsing used for?
There are lots of uses for private browsing. This feature can be used for:
- Minimizing the amount of browsing history and the amount of browsing information.
- Preventing the accidental saving of login details to various accounts. This is especially important if the browser that the accounts will be opened on is on a different person’s computer or device. You don’t want your social media login details to be stored on another person’s phone, would you?
- Preventing other users of the device from finding your search and browsing history.
- Viewing explicit and sensitive content on the internet without the knowledge of other local users.
- Carrying out search functions that are not influenced or affected by prior browsing history or factors, which may cause your browser to rank certain search results higher than others.
- Testing websites. Yes, you can use the private browsing feature to test websites. When searches are made with an incognito browser, the incognito feature will allow you to see the true results of your search, thereby allowing you to determine which website ranks the highest.
These are only but a few uses of the private browsing feature.
According to research done so far, private web browsing isn’t fully able to hide your browsing activities.
In 2010, professors at Stanford University discovered that there won’t be a record of your history on a private browser session but there will be records on the websites themselves.
In 2012, a group of Brazilian researchers carried out a project of extracting data and information’s from different browser private modes and partially reconstructing those using applied forensic techniques. This proved that private browsing isn’t able to fully hide traces even locally.
In 2014, researchers at Newcastle University carried out a project on private browsing. They came out with the following results:
- A record of the visited websites during private sessions can be retained for a long period of time in the local memory even after the session has been closed.
- Software bugs in some browsers diminish the security of the private browser.
- Some web browsers show unique interfaces which enable a website to know if the user is currently on private mode.
How does private browsing work?
Private web browsing works in different ways for various browsers. However, there are certain features that work the same way for all browsers.
A major way in which private surfing works is that it disables third-party toolbars and click trackers, which are known for tracking your surfing activities. It also doesn’t save usernames, email addresses, and passwords, which makes it perfect for browsing on a device that is not yours.
Private web surfing provides a bit of anonymity but it doesn’t totally block the user’s cyber activities from exposure. In other words, it is not entirely private.
Even though private web browsing stops your browsing history from being retained. It is important to note that it does nothing to stop other programs and application software running on your phone or computer from retaining your browsing activities. Hence, the private browsing feature is useless against key loggers and spyware or even parental-control application software, which is capable of storing or retaining all your browser activities regardless of any private surfing feature.
The reason for this seemingly contradictory anomaly is that even if your web browser can decide not to store your browsing activities, it cannot tell other computers, servers, and routers to forget your browsing history. Therefore the answer to the question, “Is private browsing private?” is “NO, not entirely”. But that doesn’t mean that it does not have its benefits.
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