Private browsing – myths and best practices
Sometimes it’s useful to use the internet knowing that your browsing information and history will not be seen by others.
There are legitimate reasons why you may want to switch your browser to private or incognito mode – it doesn’t always mean a user is up to no good! A well-known example is looking for a birthday present or promotion gift for a partner or colleague. Or you may be working at a shared computer on a project that only a handful of people in your organisation know about at the moment.
Whatever your reason, when it comes to private browsing here are a few misconceptions. These are important to know about if you want your employees to be safe surfing the web.
Here we dispel some common myths and look into best practices for online privacy.
- You are anonymous when private browsing
Private browsing does not make you invisible on the internet. Websites, your IT provider and even your employer can still gain information on your activity, even when you are in “private mode”.
These modes only usually apply to masking your activity from users of the same device. Firefox, for example, tells you this; warning that your ISP or employer can still track the pages you visit.
- Private browsing erases browser activity
Any downloads you make or page bookmarks you save won’t be hidden from view if done in private browsing modes. What private browsing does is let you use the web without saving cookies, storing passwords or tracking your browsing history – although visited sites and bookmarks will appear as you type in the address bar.
Search queries are also still saved and will still be associated with your IP address. Even if you clear it, they are still visible.
- It is more secure than regular browsing
Private browsing is a good way to stay off the radar when you’re using a shared computer, such as in a shared office space or at home with family, to browse the web and access your accounts. It will make sure that the next person who uses the computer won’t be able to see your activity. However, the power of private browsing is limited to your local device.
Private browser modes cannot protect you from malware or viruses. For example, if you download an attachment from a phishing email while you’re in incognito mode, that virus can still install itself on your computer. You still need robust security measures in place.
Best practices for online privacy
While private browsing modes don’t offer complete privacy online, they still have other benefits.
- You can use a shared computer or someone else’s device while preventing your passwords, search records, and browsing history from being saved on that device.
- You can open a tab in private browsing mode and log into several email accounts without the inconvenience of logging off from one account and logging into another.
For further privacy and protection online, try these:
Use a VPN
To truly hide your browsing habits, you’re going to need a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs encrypt all your internet traffic and pass it through a server which acts as relay between you and the websites you visit. When using a VPN, all that can be seen is a stream of encrypted data being exchanged between you and your VPN provider – not even the address of the websites you visit are visible.
Private web browsing with a VPN also benefits users who want to avoid downloading cookies or keeping a long internet search history.
Try browser extensions
All websites have cookies and other trackers that try to trace your internet behavior. Fortunately, quite a few browser extensions have been developed that can help you make your internet sessions much safer and more anonymous.
These extensions are often easy to install and use. Aside from an adblocker, and a VPN browser extension, you could also try specific add-ons and extensions that minimise tracking. HTTPs Everywhere, Ghostery and Privacy Badger are some good examples.
As an extra layer of protection, you can also use password manager extensions, such as Last Pass. This encrypts and stores your passwords in one central location, so instead of remembering dozens, you only have to remember one. This keeps any strong passwords you use, safe.
Adjust social media privacy settings
There are plenty of effective ways to protect your personal information when using social media such as using unique passwords and taking advantage of two-factor authentication so that other people can’t log in even if they do get hold of your password. Each of the major social media sites, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram, offers ways to better protect your privacy in their settings. You should encourage employees to make sure their personal profiles are secure.
Unlike your personal Facebook page or Linkedin profile, you likely don’t know a large percentage of the “followers” on your business page. While you can’t check every single person, take a few minutes to choose the privacy settings that will work best for your company.
With Facebook, you can restrict who can see your page, who is able to comment on posts and the visibility of it in search engines.
If you combine these tips, your online privacy is better guarded already. You’ll be able to browse the internet much more anonymously. If you have any questions about private browsing please get in touch with our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.