Monday, August 1, 2011

Private browsing really isn't

Originally published 3/29/11 on

Do you use the private browsing feature of your browser? Though they may have different names for it, the major browsers all have some type of private browsing available. All of them do pretty much the same thing. From the description of Private Browsing in Opera:

Private tabs

To browse without leaving any trace of the websites you visit, you can use a private tab. This is especially useful if you are using someone else's computer, or planning a surprise that you want to keep secret. When you close a private tab, the following data related to the tab is deleted:

  • browsing history
  • items in cache
  • cookies
  • logins

It looks really good - but your browser isn't the only thing gathering info about you on the web. The explanation given on Google Chrome's private browsing page is pretty clear:

Browsing in incognito mode only keeps Google Chrome from storing information about the websites you've visited. The websites you visit may still have records of your visit. Any files saved to your computer will still remain on your computer.

For example, if you sign into your Google Account on while in incognito mode, your subsequent web searches are recorded in your Google Web History. In this case, to prevent your searches from being stored in your Google Account, you'll need to pause your Google Web History tracking.

If you're using private browsing it will protect you from people finding out what you're doing online by checking your browser, but it won't protect you from the data and logs kept by the your ISP, the ous servers your data travels through, and of course, the sites you visit. Private browsing isn't really private except on the computer the browser is running on.