Your online privacy: the browser

The Internet and your privacy, two things that seem to be in conflict.  No matter how careful you think you are, there is ALWAYS some kind of trail, something that will let others determine your online habits.  The most basic of trails, and one you CANNOT do anything about, is the trail you leave every time you visit a site. Your ISP is able to track your every move.  However, other bits you can control.

Most modern browsers, from Internet Explorer 7, 8 and now 9, Chrome, Firefox and Safari, provide a ‘safe browsing’ mode. Now, some call this the ‘porn’ mode while others call it ‘leaving no trail’.  In a nutshell, this mode lets you surf without keeping cookies, browsing history, search history or any kind of history (save for what your ISP would record, that is.) 

This particular mode, is called ‘in private’, ‘incognito’, ‘private browsing’ or something similar. It is easy to activate. In Internet Explorer and Firefox, it is Control-Shift P. In Chrome and Safari, you get to it via the ‘tools’ menu.

There are many reasons why you might want to invoke this mode of browsing. You may shopping for that special someone and don’t want them to know. You could be researching something that might embarrass you if others knew.  You may have some kind of interest that might embarrass you.  You enjoy porn.  Any number of things.

During the browsing session, you will see your history and such, but as soon as you close the browser, all of it goes away.

Now, each browser acts a little differently, so keep that in mind. Firefox, for example, will shut down and restart so if there are any windows open that you want to remain open, that is too bad.  Internet Explorer, on the other hand, remains open and starts an entirely new session, which, for me, is the way to do this.

Other things to keep in mind, include:


  • websites you visit COULD still track or know you’ve been there, especially if you log into them
  • files you download WILL remain afterwards
  • bookmarks you create WILL remain
  • you can still pick up malicious software or a virus
  • search engines can still remember what you look for


If, for some reason, you forget to invoke this mode, you can cover your tracks still.  All browsers provide a means to delete browsing history and cookies.  All use the ‘tools’ menu to accomplish this. HOWEVER, you may not be able to remove everything. For example, Firefox, Safari and IE 7 and 8 all have search bars.  Things you search for may still remain after you delete your history.

Next time, I’ll talk about Facebook.  Facebook presents some unique challenges to privacy.

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