It’s happened to all of us – you want to look something up online but you don’t want the search to show in your browsing history (cyberstalking exes anyone?). You open up a private or incognito window and scour away breathing a sigh of relief. But do these so-called “private” browsing sessions accomplish what you think they accomplish? Find out below.
What happens in incognito mode?
Incognito mode is available when using Chrome and it does what you think does: As soon as you close the window, the browsing history disappears. Chrome won’t remember where you’ve been, what you’ve searched for, or the information you’ve input into web forms. The same is true for private browsing on Internet Explorer, Safari, etc. On top of that, all cookies vanish in these private sessions. Cookies help sites remember if you’ve visited them before. For instance, they allow you to come back to your shopping cart on a website a few days later and still see the items you haven’t purchased yet.
Incognito mode is great at giving you a blank slate. It not only erases your browsing history, but also gives you access to more free articles on a paywalled site, although some sites have figured out other methods to determine if you’ve already visited them before. Plus, incognito mode allows you to sign into multiple accounts at the same time. If your kid has a Spotify account, and you do too, you don’t have to sign them out to log in yourself if you use a private session.
As an N.C. web design company, we use private sessions and incognito mode frequently to check our clients’ websites. Are the websites accomplishing what we want them to accomplish? Are the popups and email newsletter forms showing up? How does the website look to a first-time visitor? Using private and incognito mode allows us to determine all of that.
The drawback with incognito mode? It only erases information on your browser and your device – not necessarily tracking and data mining in general.
What doesn’t happen in incognito mode?
Certain Big Tech companies – Facebook, Amazon, and Google – use your cookies and tracking data even in incognito or private mode. Yes, that information is deleted once you finish your session, but the information is still used during your private session. Meaning, if you’re signed into Facebook, the company can see what you’re up to on other sites and adjust its advertising, even in incognito mode. Blocking third-party cookies helps this to a degree, but not completely.
Big Tech companies don’t give users the choice to stop tracking. Google has gotten into hot water for tracking users, to the tune of $5 billion. If you sign in to Google even using incognito mode, your searches are still logged and associated with your account (assuming that’s how your Google account preferences are set up, according to Wired.com). Google uses its ad network and tracking tech on other sites to keep tabs on you all the time. (Say it ain’t so!)
What can you do about it?
Let’s say you don’t sign in anywhere – what then? Websites can use your IP address, your device type, and your browser to figure out who you are and tie this to other information available about you. Mozilla is fighting against this type of tracking, dubbed fingerprinting, but it still happens. (We help with internet marketing in Charlotte and beyond, but we don’t engage in fingerprinting.)
Other things private or incognito mode doesn’t do? Hide browsing from your internet service provider, your employer, or erase files you’ve downloaded. Basically, incognito mode hides your online activities from the browser you’re using and other people using that same device, but it doesn’t do much else. Even though the internet gives the illusion of anonymity and invisibility, that’s not really the case.
If you’re concerned about tracking and privacy, use the search engine DuckDuckGo and a reliable VPN program. Web Symphonies likes Private Internet Access. As always, if you have concerns about privacy or any other internet issues, we’re a Charlotte web design company that would be happy to help. Just reach out.