Q: Does using Private Browsing Mode hide all the Browsing information and data?
A: Yes, it does, but only from you and everyone else can see it.
Private Browsing Mode or Incognito Mode is one of the features available in almost all browsers. Most of us think that when we use this mode to surf the internet, we are safe as no logs are being created, and there is no browsing history stored for this current session anywhere. The truth, however, is, although no information gets stored on your PC, it does everywhere else as it happens in the normal browsing mode. To understand this in a much simpler way, look at the image below.
What does Private Browsing Mode Claim to Hide?
Private Browsing Mode claims to hide your tracks of surfing the internet so that no one can find you which websites you have visited. There are no logs maintained in the browsing history of your computer. Moreover, it claims to prevent the creation or modification of any previously created cookies on your computer. Some browsers even disable the use of extensions up to a certain extent only.
Q: What if I use the browser in the normal mode and then erase the history and cookies with a couple of clicks?
A: That would be the same as using a Private Browsing Mode or Incognito Mode.
Note: This will only hide your data from yourself or others who use the same computer. However, people, including your network administrator, your Internet Service Provider and E-commerce websites, can track your browsing activities.
How Can I be Tracked While Surfing in Private Browsing Mode?
The shocking information is that you can be tracked in more than 5 different ways, even while using the Private Browsing Mode.
1. The network always maintains logs
When you are using the Private Browsing Mode in any computer that is connected to a network, then the surfing history is not saved on your computer. But, it is being recorded at the network database as we can’t deny the fact, any traffic that enters/exits the computer has to pass through the Firewall.
So next time, you decide to play an online game in your office or library, remember you won’t be tracked immediately but can come under serious trouble as every link you click gets stored in the database.
2. The Websites you visit do know who and where you are from
The Private Browsing Mode does not mask the request that goes out from your computer to any website. As the traffic is not encrypted, all the sites make a note and store logs of the computer and network details. This is quite evident when you try to watch content on Netflix that is restricted in your country. Even if you use the private browsing mode or the incognito mode, you will still not be able to see those videos as the Netflix website recognises your IP address and identifies, which country you are surfing from.
3. Someone in the middle is keeping a note
Your computer connected to your network is the start, and the website you want to visit is the end. But there is someone or something, which acts as a middle checkpoint and keeps an eye on the traffic. There can be different types of entities keeping track of your traffic in the middle:
- ISP. Your Internet Service Provider is always present in the middle and takes note of which website you visit and what response you receive from there. There is no way you can prevent your ISP as it has the legal right to keep an eye on your traffic.
- Hackers. Hackers try to enter the path of your traffic to steal your credentials, banking information and other personal details. These malicious agents can be checked and kept at bay by installing VPN or security software to encrypt your traffic, but a simple Private Browsing Mode will not be of any help at all.
4. Malware and Browser Extensions Can Monitor You
So far, we have discussed three entities that are outside your computer, which can track and create logs about our browsing activities under Private Browsing Mode. However, the possibility of being followed also lies in our computer. The Browser will, of course, not log any details, but others can.
- Malware. If malware infects your computer, then it does not matter if you use the Private Browsing Mode or the Normal Mode to surf the internet. A malware would continue to carry out its designed task, which in most cases is to collect your data and transfer them to the person who planted it. Your computer remains safe until it is not connected to the internet. For example, If you have Keylogger Malicious software installed in your system then, it will make a log of all that you type irrespective of which mode you are using to browse.
- Extensions. Like Malware, Extensions that are added to the browser track your activity despite using Private Browsing Mode. Probably this is the reason why most of the browsers disable extensions when you turn on the Incognito mode in them. Those extensions can be manually turned on by the user.
5. Browsers have fingerprints
That is a bit weird, isn’t it? But have you tried to visit an E-Commerce website from your computer and then tried it on another device? You would observe a significant change in the recommendations, Offers, Products on discount etc. This is because when you visit a website, it gathers some details about the request received and builds a profile from the data. This process is called Browser Fingerprinting, which includes collecting information on the Hardware, Software, Time zone, OS and Browser along with the plugins used. Using the Private Browsing Mode does not prevent this information from reaching the websites.
6. Manual Tracking
This is not a technical type of tracking, but when it comes to how you can be tracked while using Private Browsing Mode, it is essential to include this method. Remember when you are using Private Browsing Mode, anyone can see your screen walking behind you. Also, the IT team can track your monitor by zooming the camera that is always behind you.
Also Read: The Incognito Mode: A Myth
How to Remain Safe Without using Private Browsing Mode?
There is no 100% guarantee that you can remain safe and secure while browsing on the internet. However, there are some other measures you can use to protect your data and maintain privacy over the internet.
- Use HTTPS Everywhere Plugin
Installing this plugin on your Chrome Browser will ensure that all the websites you visit are accessed under Secure Socket Layer Connections. Again it will not protect your data 100% but reduce the tracking activities up to a great extent.
Download Now: HTTPS Everywhere
- Use a VPN
A VPN or Virtual Private Network encrypts the request that leaves your computer and routes them to a server of their own and then reroutes them to the website requested. All this encryption and re-routing confuses the sites and trackers. Therefore, they can’t track the exact source of the request. Even the professional hackers cannot trace who is sending what and where.
- Proxy Server
After VPNs, many consider Proxy Servers, a thing of the past, but it is still effective as it was before. The traffic, in this case, is not encrypted as in a VPN but proxy servers can avoid website trackers from entering your computer and blockingthem.
Also Read: 10 Best Proxy Servers For Windows In 2020
- Use TOR browser
One way to stay safe on the internet is to use the TOR browser, which has a built-in VPN feature, the data that exits your computer is always encrypted and passes through different gateways to hide your location. It is free of cost and effortless to install and use.
Also Read: How To Protect Your Privacy On Tor Browser
- Install a Powerful Anti-Malware
If you have an Anti Malware installed in our system that frequently updates with the latest virus definitions, then you can be assured that any malware or malicious extensions installed in your computer will be detected and removed.
The Final word on Private Browsing Mode on your computer
To sum up, Private Browsing Mode is not as private as you think and can be easily traced and tracked. Other solutions to maintain Privacy include using a VPN or TOR web browser. The main idea behind revealing the defects of the Private Browsing Mode was to inform all the readers and remove the fake notion of Privacy while using them. You can continue using them knowing the fact that nothing remains hidden on the internet, and only you will not be able to see any history of the current session on Incognito mode.