You know I attach great importance to Internet privacy. The Internet is a wonderful place. You can have a blog, meet people, buy stuff and waste your time like there's no tomorrow. But browsing the Internet is not without risks. Without protection, you leave a trail of information. Information that could be used to identify you, even without explicitly disclosing your name. Today we'll see how private is so-called private browsing.
Private browsing? Not really
Everybody knows about private browsing. Most web browsers offer this feature: Incognito Mode on Chrome, Private Browsing on Firefox and Safari and InPrivate Browsing on Internet Explorer. I think it was the worst idea ever to name it private browsing. We have to thank Apple for that, with their Safari 2.0 version. Most people believe this feature protects them from prying eyes. Unfortunately, it's only partially true.
What is private browsing?
It's a mode, or a window, where your web browser disables the history and the web cache. In other terms, your browser does not save the sites you visit when this mode is enabled. Here's the list of the information not saved by your browser:
- Visited pages
- Form and Search Bar entries
- Download List entries
- Cached Web Content
- Offline Web Content
- User Data
It's a nice feature. And it can be useful. Because the next person who browses on your computer will never know where you connected and what websites you visited. Your privacy is safe locally, on your computer.
How to turn on private browsing?
In the main browsers: Open the menu and you will have the opportunity to open a new private window. Once launched, the color code of your window will change, so that you know when you're using a private window.
See below to turn on the feature on Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox.
Others can still see your information
Private web browser or incognito mode only prevents your browser from saving your activity. It won't stop other sources from seeing what sites you’ve visited. Among them:
- Your Internet service provider (ISP)
- Your employer (if you're using a computer at work)
- The websites you visit themselves
- Your government (it is monitoring, and you know it)
- Hackers and Snoopers
These sources can access all your traffic data, your history, and your IP address. That's why I say that private browsing is only a local privacy. You can hide from your friends and family, but not from Big Brother. You can prevent potentially embarrassing links from appearing on suggestions, tabs or search history. That's about it.
Despite private browsing, your information is available online
Your ISP is saving your browsing data for years. What information? The websites you visit (online streaming, adult sites, torrents sites, banks, communications…) and your communications: For each email, they know the sender's address, their IP address (and location) and the recipient's address.
Here's a list of information you constantly share online:
- The IP address of your computer (and all your metadata)
- Your phone number (when connecting from a smartphone)
- Your communications
- What media you use (the social network used, VoIP, P2P, websites, emails, messenger…)
- When you send your messages
- Who you send your messages to
- The time you spend on each service
- Your geographical position (thanks to Wi-Fi and data connection points)
I bet you're also using P2P software and downloading torrents, am I right? Your ISP knows what you download and from where. Sometimes ISPs use this information to filter your connection and to slow it down. It's called P2P filtering.
In fact, these data are used to systematically document the habits of millions of people. Most of the time for marketing purpose.
How to really browse privately?
The fundamental rules to browse privately
If you want a true private browsing, you need to follow these fundamental rules to protect your privacy:
Your browser's incognito mode DOES NOT cover any of these points. If you thought it was, I'm sorry to disappoint you. But at least, now you know!
Use a VPN on all your devices
One finds it quite normal to install an antivirus and a firewall on a new device. However, nobody cares about protecting their data online… That's a shame. Because encrypting data traffic is now a priority. We are connected 24/7 and our data are spread everywhere. With only two sources, providing anonymous data, it's possible to identify a user.
The only way to protect your privacy is to follow the rules above. And the only way to follow the rules above is to use a VPN. What is a VPN? It's a private network to which you connect to reach the internet. A VPN encrypts all your data, which make it difficult or downright impossible to decipher them. Furthermore, a VPN hides your IP address and anonymize your connection. Therefore, it's impossible to track your activity and your habits.
I said: On ALL your devices
A VPN is mandatory on your computer. But what about your tablet, or your phone? All the details of your personal life are stored on this little device. What if people can access your pictures, contacts, emails, banking information from the app store, etc.? Yet most people leave their Internet connection unprotected. They connect to free Wi-Fi networks and share data. And these data are in the clear.
In this configuration, even a 12-year-old with a free Trojan horse could access these data. I'll repeat again: Free Wi-Fi is dangerous. You could be connecting to a trap without paying attention. The only protection is A VPN. Most VPN now offer native apps for Android and iOS. And if you have another operating system, you can set up your VPN manually.
If you can afford a £700 iPhone, you can afford a £50 annual subscription, can't you? A good protection is not free, but it's cheap and mandatory these days.
The best VPNs to protect your privacy on the Internet
With a VPN, you have a total control over your data and your online life. Surf with peace of mind with a VPN.
Now you know what is private browsing and how to turn on private browsing. You know what you're hiding and what you're not. You should be fully protected, locally and globally with a VPN. And enjoy a safe Internet.
This was my guide: Private browsing: Is your privacy protected on the Internet? Stay tuned for more articles coming soon.