You’ve gone incognito. Have you really, though? What exactly does this mean for your security and why has it become a popular method of browsing, as well as a controversial topic per se?
The topic of private browsing is one that lifts up the eyebrows and pops up the proverbial light bulbs over the heads of a lot of folks all over the world, in several different ways. Of course those of us who are familiar and technically proficient with computers, and have been for a longer period of time, are no strangers to these trends and the information technology landscape that we currently find ourselves in.
Trust issues are especially abundant now with most people either under lockdown or with some sort of limitation to their mobility. Most of us are online, much much more than we were before the pandemic. In the same way, much more have been working, communicating and shopping online than probably ever before.
We are familiar with the challenges that exist due to a technological landscape that is having more and more concerns with security. In a world where man, computer and the internet are in a triangle filled with trust issues, it is sometimes not easy to feel comfortable and trust new methods, tools or browsers. This goes for almost anyone on either end of the technological proficiency spectrum today. This is because privacy has become such a household topic, which tells us a lot about what kind of time we live in. Think of the internet space like a very messy, chaotic, out of control bazaar where you have to think twice before you make a move and need to watch your back.
Introducing Private Browsing, Browser Security And Incognito Mode
The concept of private features in browsing began somewhere around 2005. Apple, specifically the Safari 2.0 browser, was one of the first tech companies to start implementing this feature. At the time, plugins such as Adobe flash (which was at a primitive, buggy stage compared to today) were used to offload browser data, but this was addressed rather soon as well following the changes and trends in browser technology.
Google and Microsoft followed somewhere soon after, implementing privacy features into their browsers and software. Google followed these trends and implemented private browsing into their brand new shining and promising Google Chrome at the time somewhere around 2008. Next in-line to adopt the trend were Mozilla, Opera, Silk, Edge and Brave respectively.
Branding tends to change from company to company, so for example the Brave browser uses the ‘This is a private tab’ text when you open a ‘New private tab’. Others call this ‘Private Browsing’ for example. Some have referred to it as ‘Incognito mode’. Of course, these are all the same feature packaged and named slightly differently, so to speak.
What Does This Private Browsing Really Do?
What private browsing does essentially is it does not keep track of your local browsing history. Private browsing does not make you anonymous online, hide your IP address from whoever it is that you wish to be hidden from, or make you completely invisible online, at all.
Your local browsing history is data that your browser communicates with your computer. Browsers typically hold data such as the website you visit (history) and the cookies, cache, or certificates necessary for the browser-website handshake.
A lot of the data that your browser holds has over the years been a target for ad companies and even malicious users, malware, adware and various types of viruses.
Brave and DuckDuckGo, Marriage Made In Heaven?
Let’s take a look at the Brave browser, available on all OS platforms with its attractive red lion logo. This browser was released last year, touting lots of privacy features and strong marketing reinforcing a user safety focus. It is free, open-source and is based on the Chromium web browser. Chromium is an open-source project funded by Google. It is pretty much a stripped down version of Google’s Chrome browser.
Brave promises to reduce website tracers, block ads and even lets you earn a form of cryptocurrency (BAT) as you browse through the internet. The browser itself also features DuckDuckGo (an official competitor of Google) by default, their partner search engine that advertises itself as a search engine that values users’ privacy, and does things in a more straight-forward and secure way than Google.
The Ingredients You Need To Be Truly Private
At the end of the day, ‘private browsing’ features are very misunderstood. One could say they are misleading. These features are only private in the sense that your browsing history and cookies do not remain in your browser (are not kept), and they limit ads in some ways. Remember, you are not invisible to your Internet Service Provider or your government.
If you are really serious about your privacy and your internet trail, it is critical to consider software such as VPNs and firewalls in some sort of combination with the Tor browser. Of course, you have to remember that nothing is %100 guaranteed safe on the internet.
David Janssen is the founder and managing director of VPNOverview.com. With an international team of privacy advocates and cybersecurity researchers, he strives to make technical topics accessible and understandable for the common man. Cyber threats and privacy concerns are growing exponentially in our increasingly digitalizing world, and arming people with the right knowledge and tools to protect themselves is pivotal.