In Private Browsing - The Benefits & Risks

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In Private Browsing - The Benefits & Risks

What is Private Browsing?

In the post-May 25th GDPR world, it’s a good time to take a look at a web browser privacy - and the benefits and risks of using private browsing on a day to day basis.   So what is private browsing?  ‘Private browsing’ essentially allows users to surf the web without having your browsing history recorded by the browser, computer or mobile device being used at the time. 

Why use Private Browsing?

If you just want a brand-new session that doesn’t remember anything about who you are, then private browsing works really well. For example, if you are shopping for a gift (let’s say a bouquet of flowers) on your family laptop, then using incognito mode will prevent anyone else who might use that laptop from seeing that you searched the likes of Google and Yelp – and they won’t start seeing flower shop advertising popping up over the following few days.  Nothing quite spoils a birthday surprise quite like a targeted advertisement!

And on your lunch break at work, if you want to watch a YouTube video about a celebrity gossip or weekend GAA match highlights without then being bombarded with related videos the next time you log into the site - an incognito window will keep that from happening.

If you have to check your email or sign into Facebook, it is always a good idea to use private browsing – this will ensure that your activities vanish when you close the window. How many Facebook messages you've sent in the past that you wouldn't want the world to see?!

If want to check your email on a computer that’s not your own - simply launch an incognito window, work through your inbox, then close the window. If you print web-based documents at a hotel, internet café or library, simply use the incognito mode because it will erase any personal data, such as Gmail usernames and passwords, when you close the window.

Main Browser Features

  • Google Chrome: Google Chrome operates ‘Incognito mode’ which is clearly visible from the "secret agent" icon in the top left corner of the window.  In Incognito Mode, Chrome won't keep track of the pages you visit, the data you enter into forms, or any searches you submit. It won't remember what files you download, but those files will stay on your computer after you close the Incognito window. You'll have to manually delete them if you want them gone, the same goes for bookmarks you create.
  • Chrome won’t save the following information: Your browsing history, cookies and site data, information entered in forms
    Your activity might still be visible to: Websites that you visit, your employer or school and your Internet service provider
  • Internet Explorer and Edge:  Internet Explorer and Edge feature ‘InPrivate’ browsing. This operates very much the same as Google - temporary internet files such as cookies, browsing history, form data are not saved but downloaded files and bookmarks stick around even after you close the InPrivate window.  Microsoft's browsers also disable any third-party toolbars that are installed when you start an InPrivate session.
  • Firefox: Mozilla welcomes you to Firefox's Private Browsing mode with a nice, clear explanation of what it does and doesn't do. Browsing/search history and cookies are not saved, downloads and bookmarks are.When you browse in a Private Window, Firefox does not save: visited pages, cookies, searches & temporary files. Firefox will save your: Bookmarks & downloads

Be warned...

Don’t get lulled into a false sense of security - logging into any personal accounts from a public computer is always a risk. Don’t forget to keep your passwords safe and always close that window when you’re finished.

Private browsing also comes in handy when using the internet to access your accounts in public spaces, such as a computer in a hotel lobby or library, while this always carries a certain amount of risk, private browsing can reduce it.  If you’re worried about who can see your online data, you should be aware that private browsing isn’t entirely safe.  

Remember, between internet shopping, online banking, and the rise of cloud computing, our personal and financial details are ripe for the picking if they fall into the wrong hands.

And finally, private browsing doesn’t make you anonymous on the Internet, your employer or Internet service provider can still know what page you visit.