Modern browsers are doing all they can to stay ahead of the game – both in terms of basic functionality and value-added features. It is in the drive for the latter that we started getting the Incognito Mode with a lot of browsers today.
Also known as “Incognito” in Google Chrome OR “Private Browsing” in Firefox browsers, this feature is touted as the one to keep your data safe and secure whenever you access the internet.
While that claim is true to an extent, it is not totally true either.
But, first of all…
What is Incognito Browsing?
When you launch a new tab in incognito mode, this tab behaves like a newly-installed browser.
That means it comes with neither any history of anything you have ever done on the internet nor does it work with plugins you must have installed in the browser. The best part of it all is that this mode does not save password data and such other autofill documents which your browser might want to remember for you.
To cap it all off, the incognito mode deletes all the history and trail it must have generated as soon as you close it. To put that in layman terms, it is much like a digital method of cleaning up after yourself immediately you are done – and there might not even be a trail that you were ever there.
What will Incognito mode protect you from?
Truth be told, this addition to modern-day browsers is one of the best things to happen to internet surfing technology. Some of the advantages you enjoy from using Incognito Mode are:
- Restricting cookie functionality – When cookies first came out, they were a harmless piece of technology aimed at bettering the internet experience.
Anytime you log into or access a website, a cookie from that site is placed on your browser. When you access the website again, the bots on that site read that cookie – and they use it to personalize your experience.
By ‘personalize,’ we mean all of keeping you logged in, remembering the site settings you specified and so much more.
Well, advertisers (and government agencies) were soon to jump on this. For them, it is a great tool to track you across the internet, determining what sites you have visited and your preferences.
With incognito mode, these cookies are limited from storing on your browser, so you are always a fresh digital being whenever you browse the web.
- Browser fingerprinting – It is well established that fingerprints are unique to individuals, and no two can ever be the same. That is the technique employed in the area of browser fingerprinting – helping anyone (especially webmasters and advertisers) collecting such information to always identify you when you come back.
The concept of browser fingerprinting lies in downloading information about your browser: the plugins and add-ons you have installed, fonts you are using, etc. That way, your computer is always recognized when it comes back to the website.
Since incognito mode makes it seem like you are working from a new browser anytime you use them, these websites will have lesser luck with fingerprinting you.
What Incognito Mode Won’t Protect You From
Even under the incognito mode, you should not start feeling invincible. Incognito mode will not protect you against everything, some of which are:
- Your system administrators – If you are browsing on a school or work computer, or using a public Wi-Fi network, you are as exposed as using a normal browser tab. The system admins can see everything you do on their networks since they are acting as your ISP at that point in time. Speaking of ISPs…
- Internet Service Providers (ISPs) – Every time you access a website, your browser queries a DNS server to know what IP address it will connect to before reaching the said website. A lot of ISPs maintain their own DNS servers, putting them in a position to see all the queries you have made from your browser. They could collect these and sell them to advertisers, or use it to identify you.
- Insecure websites – There is a reason why it is always recommended that you use websites with an HTTPS version. After all, the last ‘S’ stands for secure.
If it’s not there, you can rest assured that your system admins can see not just the website you are accessing, but all the information you are exchanging with/ on such sites.
Achieving Better Data Security
This is not a cause for you to stop using Incognito Mode at all. That is why we led with what you stand to gain from having them handy.
However, to make sure you are as safe and secure on the internet as possible:
- Disable your auto-fill settings
- Disallow cookies of any kind
- Send ‘Do Not Track’ requests to websites you’re visiting
- Use Tor (preferably over a VPN) to keep yourself even safer
- Install Privacy Badger on your browser
- Don’t allow websites to check your saved payment methods
- Disable background sync and
- Never, ever allow notification from websites.