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Privacy While Web Browsing

Privacy is important. Modern web browsers allow you more privacy control than ever before. Here we cover Private Browsing and Do Not Track.

Privacy While Web Browsing: Private Browsing

Every modern web browser has some form of private browser mode. Basically, they all do similar actions:

  • Discard cookies once you exit private browsing mode or close the browser.
  • Visited web pages are not recorded.
  • Form data is not recorded.
  • Deletes cached files once you exit private browsing mode or close the browser.
  • Text entered into the address bar is not recorded.
  • Removes DOM storage once you exit private browsing mode or close the browser.

Private browsing is useful for things such as online banking or entering private medical records. Websites cannot force a user into private browsing mode. If you value your privacy you need to remember to enable private browsing mode every time you need it.

So what do the various browser vendors call their privacy modes and how do you activate them?

Privacy While Web Browsing - IE9 InPrivate Browsing

Example of a newly launched InPrivate Browsing session in IE9.

Desktop Browsers

Privacy While Web Browsing - Google Chrome mobile Incognito tab

Example of an Incognito Tab in Google Chrome for Android.

Mobile Browsers

  • Google Chrome’s Incognito Mode – Touch the Menu button and select “New Incognito tab” on Android or iOS.
  • Safari on iOS’ Private Browsing – Go into the Settings button from the home screen and select Safari. From here you can activate Private Browsing.
  • Dolphin’s Private Browsing – For Android go to “Menu”, then “Settings”, and then “Privacy & Personal Data”. On this screen you can turn “Browsing Without History” to on. For iOS swipe to the left and “Settings”, and then turn “Private Mode” to on.
  • BlackBerry Private Browsing – Swipe down from the top bezel and select “Options”, followed by tapping “Privacy & Security”.  From their turn “Private Browsing” to on.

The following mobile browsers lack a private browsing mode:

  • The Windows Phone browser.
  • The default Android browser.
  • Firefox mobile.
  • Opera mobile and Opera mini.
  • UC browser.
  • Netfront Life.
  • Amazon’s Silk browser. (I cannot confirm this as I do not have a Kindle Fire. I cannot find any documentation stating there is such a feature. I assume if there was it would be documented. If you have a Kindle Fire and can confirm please let us know.)

Privacy While Web Browsing: Do Not Track

Do Not Track (DNT) began when several consumer advocacy groups asked the FTC to create a DNT list to opt-out of tracking lists used by online advertising. This does not mean that you can opt-out of online advertising. It just means that advertisers will not track your browsing history to create a profile of you. They will respect your privacy. You will not see ads tailored specifically for you.

Web browsers will send a small bit of text called an HTTP header for every request to a file. Currently there is no legal need for an advertisement company to respect the wishes of users that send the DNT header. This is an industry driven initiative.

Privacy While Web Browsing: Firefox Mobile's setting screen

Screenshot of Firefox Mobile’s setting screen allowing you to enable Do Not Track.

Internet Explorer 9 was the first browser to launch with support for DNT. DNT is present in the most recent versions of Firefox, Safari, and Opera. Chrome does not support DNT. They expect it to come by the end of the year.

Mobile browser support for DNT is poor. Firefox mobile is the only mobile web browser with support for DNT. You can enable DNT in Firefox by select “Settings” from the “Menu” list and then turn “Tell sites not to track me” to on.

Earlier this year Microsoft announced that DNT would be enabled by default in Internet Explorer 10. This move was endorsed by the FTC. They called for all stakeholders to follow Microsoft’s decision. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the organization that is responsible for creating all standards for the web was furious by this development. The point of DNT is to represent a user’s choice. By making it the default there is no way to know whether a user meant to opt-out of being tracked or if they did not know the option was there. The W3C felt that this would weaken the standard and discourages advertisers from adhering to DNT. They quickly updated the standard to explicitly declare Microsoft’s behavior invalid. Many advocacy groups, including the European Commission, are calling for browsers to prompt users to declare their intention the first time the browser has loaded.

Have any of you ever used private browser mode? Have you enabled Do Not Track in your favorite browser? Do you agree with Microsoft’s proposal to enable it by default? Should vendors be required to ask the user’s opinion the first time they launch a browser? Let us know.

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About

Brian is the Director of Development and Social Media for Brand Builder Websites where he oversees the development, strategy, and goals for our software development. He is also a huge fan of Android.

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