I seem to be writing quite a bit about subjects arising from discussions with friends of mine lately. I was recently asked a technical question by another close friend of mine, which isn’t strange as I work in IT and as such we IT types are a bit like doctors insofar as our place in social circles.
My friend asked:
What is ‘in private browsing’?
Do you recommend it?
When it talks about not allowing people who use your computer to see where you visited but not preventing a network administator from doing so, would the latter be if you were using a system of computers such as at uni?
I found this to be quite an interesting question; I’ve not really found a need for Firefox’s own version of “Porn Mode” but I discovered through my response to my friend that I do seem to have an opinion on it.
It is a gimmick.
Normally, when browsing the Internet through Internet Explorer (and other browsers), every site you visit is tracked (to a greater or lesser degree).
There can be a log of every file you download, including web pages and images on web pages. This is usually accessible to anyone who uses your computer, although some people don’t know how to find it.
Most browsers also keeps a history of pages you visit, this is more user friendly.
Quite often certain details you type in may also be held in something called a Cookie, this is to save you having to re-input the details and allows websites to remember details about you when you visit them again.
Finally, websites you visit are often kept in a list to make it easier for you to return to them… you’ll notice that they appear when you type into the address bar of Internet Explorer.
In Private Browsing appeared to be a kneejerk reaction from Microsoft to the “Incognito” feature that came with the first version of Google’s web browser: Chrome. This may be an unfair view point as the feature is available in other browsers also. I first became aware of it through Chrome.
In brief, it stops people from being able to see the sites you have visited on your PC but doesn’t stop network administrators tracking where your browsing history by means of some form of web logging software.
The functionality is also available in Firefox and Safari web browsers as “Private Browsing”.
The justification for this is that your web history and cookies could be accessed by hackers (or malicious local users) and used against you… or so people would have us believe.
You’ll notice on Microsoft’s “8 Seconds” adverts that In Private Browsing is marketed as a feature to use “if you’re buying a gift for a loved one and don’t want them to know”, which tells us more about the prevalence in our society for us to spy on our loved ones, than it does our actual web browsing habits.
The more cynical of us refer to it as the browser’s “Porn” or “Paedo” mode… the latter for households where pornography is acceptable. This obviously refers to the fact that the majority of Internet users will use In Private Browsing to hide their pornographic browsing from partners, parents, teachers or warders.
Personally, I never use it. I tried it once to see how it worked. It is only a local block though, it would be useful to hide browsing from other users on your computer but on a network (at University or work for example) your network administrator will still be able to wile away the hours browsing his users browsing habits looking for blackmail material…
Not mention your ISP’s logs and the busy folk at GCHQ.