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What is “Private Browsing”?

icognito-browsingAt some point, we’ll use our non-home computers to log in to our online accounts. Whether it’s a friend’s laptop, a PC in an internet cafe or our work computers, every one of those systems will store information about where you’ve visited and what you’ve done on the internet.

For example, if you’ve embarked upon a three-hour binge session on on a work computer, there will be evidence on the system. And if your boss finds out, it could lead to a couple of awkward time-management questions.

That’s why “Private Browsing” was invented. In any web browser, be it Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari, there’s an option to turn-off the storage of this kind of information. The exact details of the mode work differently in different browsers, but every implementation blocks your computer from recording your internet history and automatically logs you out of any accounts you may have used.

Google’s Chrome explains its functions as soon as you own an “Incognito” window (it’s name for Private Browsing):

You’ve gone incognito. Pages you view in incognito tabs won’t stick around in your browser’s history, cookie store, or search history after you’ve closed all of your incognito tabs. Any files you download or bookmarks you create will be kept.

Therefore Private Browsing means that if you’re Facebooking on someone else’s computer, you can close the window and be assured that you’re no longer logged in on their system – which might dramatically reduce the number of embarrassing (and fake) status updates that get posted.

Another benefit of Private Browsing is that it doesn’t log-out anyone that’s already logged in on the normal browser. So you can use a friend’s system without logging her out of all the accounts that she leaves herself logged into. This is a personal bugbear of mine when letting friends use my computer, so Private Browsing is a godsend.

What doesn’t it do?

As useful as it is, Private Browsing isn’t a solution to all of your internet security worries. For example, Private Browsing can block your computer from recording its internet history (great for secretly buying presents for a partner), but it won’t stop your internet service provider from knowing the websites you visit. As Chrome explains:

However, you aren’t invisible. Going incognito doesn’t hide your browsing from your employer, your internet service provider, governments and other sophisticated attackers, or the websites you visit.

Private Browsing only deals with information at the local end – the computer itself. It also has absolutely no effect on preventing malware or other computer security issues, such as keylogging or phishing.

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