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January 19, 2021

Privacy Tip of the Week: Understand the Limits to Private Browsing

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Almost everyone uses private, or incognito, browsing at some point in their digital lives. It’s a convenient feature that enhances your privacy online. Most commonly, users take advantage of private browsing to access adult-themed content, look up possibly embarrassing medical issues, or shop for loved ones without the surprise being given away. Unfortunately, many people believe this feature hides them completely from the many prying eyes of the internet. This is not the case. To be truly safe online, you must understand the limits to private browsing, and how to get around them:

  • The basics of online tracking
  • What does private browsing do?
  • What doesn’t it do?
  • How to enhance your digital privacy

The Basics of Online Tracking

Every time you connect to the web, your internet service provider can see and record all your actions online. The websites you visit can see your activity on that site. Advertisers can see the products you’re looking at and track you across websites to show you ads, and more. With so many different organizations tracking you, it’s important to know how that tracking is happening:

  • Through Your IP Address: Whenever you make a request online (ie. navigate to a website, use a search engine, etc.), the result you want knows to come to your device because of your IP address. While IPs are the basic building blocks of the web, they’re also logged by every website you visit and can be assigned to an identifying profile about you.
  • Via Cookies: Cookies are little bits of code that are stored on your computer by the websites you visit. Some save images on websites so they don’t have to load every time, making those websites faster. Others store your login information so you don’t have to sign into accounts every time. However, others store information about you. That information can be used to track your activities across websites, while also showing you personalized ads.
  • From Your Accounts: When you open a private browsing session, you’re signed out of your normal accounts by default. However, if you then sign into those accounts, the website you’re on can still see and log your activity.
  • With Your Digital Fingerprint: Your digital fingerprint is a series of basic information about the systems you use to access the web. It may include information like the operating system you have, or the browser you use. Although this information isn’t inherently identifying, it can still help organizations track your activities.

What Does Private Browsing Do?

Although private browsing isn’t as private as the name suggests, there are some benefits to using this feature. Here’s what private browsing actually does: 

  • Deletes Your History: Any websites you visit or searches you make while using private browsing mode will be removed from your browsing history once you close your browser.
  • Removes Cookies: While your private session remains active, it prevents cookies from saving on your device and stops them from tracking you. 
  • Logged Out Accounts: If you want to use an online platform without your activity being tracked through your account, private browsing is the way to go.

What Doesn’t Private Browsing Do?

The term “private browsing” is somewhat of a misnomer. Although it has some capacity to protect your privacy, there are limits to private browsing and how it can protect you. Private browsing cannot:

  • Hide You From Your ISP: Although your web browser won’t save your activity, it can still be seen by your internet service provider.
  • Mask Your IP Address: The websites you visit can also see your IP address, which may have revealing information about your identity.
  • Prevent Accounts From Tracking You: If you sign into an online account while in private browsing mode, your activity can be stored and associated with your account.

How to Enhance Your Digital Privacy

Private browsing is a step in the right direction for your online privacy. However, it’s far from the best option to protect yourself. Thankfully, there are other ways to gain more privacy online. When combined with private browsing, you can rest assured that your data will remain yours alone. Some of the methods for enhancing your privacy online include:

  • VPNs: VPNs, or virtual private networks, are one of the most effective privacy tools available today. They encrypt your data so no one without authorized access can see it. They also hide your IP address, so your identity remains completely anonymous online.
  • Tor: Tor is a digital network of computers that routes your activity through a series of “nodes.” Essentially, every request you make passes through a variety of computers before the result is returned to yours. This makes tracking your activity nearly impossible.
  • Extensions: There are a few types of extensions that can help enhance your privacy online. For example, an ad blocker may prevent tracking ads from loading on your device and following you. Other extensions summarize the privacy policies of some websites to tell you exactly what data they collect and how they use it.

Overcome the limits to private browsing and complement its strengths with a reputable VPN service. HotBot VPN has thousands of fast servers around the world. You can download our app today from the Play Store, App Store, or for your Windows devices!

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