Browsing in Private: “Anonymous View” vs Private Mode
Is Private Mode actually private? In his latest article, Dan Arel explains the difference between Startpage‘s “Anonymous View” and Private Mode (Incognito mode).
Dan Arel is a privacy and digital rights activist, founder and curator of ThinkPrivacy.ch, as well as an award-winning journalist, and best-selling author. His work has appeared in the Huff Post, OpenSource, Hacker Noon, Time Magazine, and more. You can follow him on Twitter @danarel.
One of the most misunderstood features on most modern browsers is Private Mode, or sometimes called Incognito mode. When I am offering advice on measures people can take in their privacy such as using a private search engine or a VPN, I am told, “I don’t need those, I use private browsing mode all the time.” Worse, I have seen people in office environments using private browsing on their work computers, visiting personal sites such as social media or shopping.
This is because a vast majority of people who use private browsing, unfortunately, don’t understand the limitations of the feature. In a recent study (https://elie.net/blog/privacy/understanding-how-people-use-private-browsing/), 54% of people who use private browsing claim to use it to hide from the websites they visit, while 20% used it to hide from the internet provider. Two things private browsing absolutely does not protect users from.
What users of private browsing need to understand is that the feature only works locally on the device level, not their comprehensive digital profile. It can hide your history, cookies, and login information for people with access to the same computer as you.
If you visit a non-private search engine in private browsing, they can still see your IP address, browser information, and use previous data they have collected on you to serve you ads or search results. To the search engine, nothing about your experience is private. The same goes for your ISP, IT department at work, or anyone else snooping on your web traffic.
What the private browsing feature will do, is ensure that when you close the window, your cookies are deleted, your logins are expired and you’re signed out without saved login information, and that your browsing history is no longer accessible. If another person opened another private browsing window, nothing about your last use would be accessible to them.
In summary, in private browsing has led many to a false sense of security.
For those users looking for the best way to keep search engines and the companies who own them from tracking you, it is important to use to a privacy respecting search engine such as Startpage, the world’s first private search engine. Users can also take advantage of features like “Anonymous View” a feature exclusive to Startpage which allows users to visit a website through a proxy server that hides the users’ IP, browser information, and other identifiable information from the website.
How is Startpage’s “Anonymous View” different from private browsing?
Private browsing or Incognito Mode serves an important purpose, but the name can be misleading and too much of the marketing around it can be vague. There is a great deal of room for improvement in communication and setting expectations by these companies.
Regardless of their intentions, until companies begin to honestly care about user privacy, much of the onus will still fall on users to educate themselves and find the tools that better fit their privacy needs.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Startpage.