What is this feature: InPrivate, Private Browsing, Incognito or Private Tab? What does it do for you and how safe does it keep you? Today we will have a look at what these privacy modes have to offer, in the five most used browsers: Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari.
Internet Explorer - InPrivate Browsing
Internet Explorer calls it "InPrivate Browsing". You find it on the right hand side, under the "Safety" sub-menu in "Tools".
When you click on it, Internet Explorer opens a new window with the following notification: "InPrivate Browsing helps prevent Internet Explorer from storing data about your browsing session."
It won’t store cookies, temporary Internet files, history and other data. By default, it also disables extra toolbars and extensions you normally have installed in Internet Explorer.
To leave "InPrivate Browsing" you have to close the window.
Firefox - Private Browsing
Firefox calls it "Private Browsing". You find it straight under the Firefox button, on the top left. The option you are looking for is named "Start Private Browsing".
When you open Private Browsing, the Firefox button becomes purple (a very easy reminder to check if you are still in Private Browsing).
And you get a notification with a short explanation.
In Private Browsing, Firefox doesn’t store any browser history, search history, download history, web form history, cookies or temporary Internet files.
But you will still be able to download things (they won’t be erased when you close Private Browsing) and bookmark pages.
And Firefox explicitly warns that your ISP (Internet Service Provider) or employer can still track the pages you visit.
A nice feature is the option to Stop Private Browsing, in the Firefox menu, which will restore all the tabs you had open before you started Private Browsing. This will enable you to go on where you left.
Chrome - Incognito
Chrome calls it "Incognito". You find it on the right-hand side under "Customize and control Google Chrome".
Like Internet Explorer, it opens a new window. In Chrome you can recognize an Incognito window by an image of a person in disguise (raincoat, hat and dark glasses), in the top left corner.
And you get a notification with an explanation.
Like Firefox and Internet Explorer, it doesn’t save your browser history or search history and won’t leave other traces, like cookies, on your computer. You are also still able to save downloads and bookmarks.
But unlike Internet Explorer and Firefox, any other windows of Chrome you have open (the ones you opened before or after you started Incognito) won’t leave any traces either, as long as there is still an Incognito window open.
The notification also warns about websites that collect or share information about you and ISP’s and employers that track the pages you visit. It also warns that it does not stop malicious software that tracks your keystrokes, and it warns you to be wary of surveillance by secret agents and people standing behind you.
Lastly, it lets you know that Incognito disables extensions. You can manually enable them to work in this mode too.
Opera - Private Browsing
Opera calls it Private browsing. You find it on the left hand side under the "Opera" menu. But Opera handles things a bit differently. You can choose to either open a New Private Tab or to open a New Private Window.
A new Private Tab looks like this:
With a very short notification, which you can even disable.
It only states that browser activity within this tab is private. When you close the tab Opera deletes all information connected with it.
When you click "Learn more about private browsing" you get a notification telling you: "If you wish to browse without leaving a trace , for example, if you’re using someone else’s computer or a public one, you can use private tabs or windows. See more in the Private browsing topic."
When we follow the link to the Private browsing topic, we learn a bit more. When the Private Tab is closed browsing history, items in cache, cookies and logins are deleted. And a closed private tab or window cannot be recovered from the "Closed Tabs" drop-down, on the right side of the tab bar.
You can also close all private tabs in one go (leaving the normal tabs open) by right clicking on a tab and selecting "Close All Private Tabs" or use the Ctrl+Shift +Q keyboard shortcut.
And we also get an explanation on how we can open Opera in a private window instead of a private tab. You can create a private window by selecting, in the Opera menu, Tabs and Windows -> New Private Window. Just like a private tab, a private window removes all traces of your browsing, when closed.
Safari - Private Browsing
Safari calls it Private Browsing. You find it under the "Edit" menu.
When you open Private Browsing, you get a pop-up asking if you really want to do this, with an explanation on what Private Browsing means.
Webpages won’t be added to history, items will be automatically removed from the Downloads window (which doesn’t mean your download will be removed – just the reference to it in the download list), information isn’t saved for AutoFill and searches are not added to the popup menu in the Google search box. However Back and Forward buttons work as normal until you close the window.
Once you have opened Private Browsing, you can’t view if you are in privacy mode, unless you click Edit -> Private Browsing. The Private Browsing will be ticked now.
Clicking on Private Browsing again will end the private browsing session.
Now, When Would Private Browsing be Useful?
It is useful if you are on a public computer and you don’t want your browsing history to be accessible by the next person on the computer. Or when you check your webmail on a public computer.
Does That Mean No One Can See What You Have Done?
Not really… Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) can track any site you have visited, no matter what kind of browsing mode you use. And the websites you have visited often store data about you, like your IP address. You have no control over that data either.
The Microsoft statement about InPrivate in Internet Explorer says it very neatly: "This helps prevent anyone else who might be using your computer from seeing where you visited and what you looked at on the web."
Also, if a key-logger is installed on the computer you are using or any other tracking software, it will be able to tell what you were doing. For more privacy, it is best to make sure a good security solution is installed.
In short: you can stop the people using your computer to see anything, but you can’t stop anyone else. Privacy is a relative thing on the Internet.
Have you used private browsing modes yourself? Which browser you prefer for this activity?