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private browsing not so private

13/06/2019 - Posted in internet , knowledge , minimal security , privacy , private , security , tutorial Posted by:

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reading time: 1 minute

Private browsing is one of the most misunderstood terms in relation to the internet. I have met countless people who believe that it is a special mode that will protect them while surfing online. Unfortunately, private browsing is not the solution to online tracking. Private browsing is by far not as private as one would expect.

Different browsers give different names (private browsing, incognito, InPrivate browsing, private tab / window) to the functionality while striving for the same goal. To give a little more privacy on the client side. This means that the mode does not protect you from online advertisers, your internet service provider (ISP) or the websites you surf to in general. Traditionally, what the private browsing mode does, is that it does not add visited sites to the browsing history, save auto-fill inputs, etc. This information is isolated within each private tab and deleted as soon as the tab is closed.

However, while it certainly helps to make you somewhat more private, it does not guarantee privacy. Your ISP still knows which websites you were surfing to. The websites you accessed still know that it was you who visited them. Additionally, this browsing mode can not protect you from online fingerprinting and therefore ad-networks can still profile you and record the websites you visited.

If you want a little more information about private browsing you can head over to and see their post on the issue. Their post is a lot longer and goes more into the details of what it really is.

what can you do

In order to increase your online privacy it is necessary to completely block trackers. Check out my previous blog post on how to do this using uBlock origin.

Another alternative is to use the Tor browser. I have not written an introductory post about it yet. If you want to go down that road, just beware that this will be a great change from your traditional browser.


In case you are interested into a more academic perspective on this topic you should read a recent paper by Wu et al. from 2018. The paper looks at the topic of misconceptions about private browsing from an academic perspective.

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