If you browse the Internet using your browser’s incognito mode, do you know that your online activity is still visible? Well your parents wouldn’t see you browse through … sites they wouldn’t like you looking at, but website operators, internet providers and other data collectors would. They wouldn’t judge you, sure, but it’s time we accept that your private mode browsing is not so private at all:
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But according to a 2018 study by the Leibniz University of Hannover and the University of Chicago, many users overestimate the privacy protections offered in private mode. Even after they were shown disclaimers, 40 percent of participants thought their location couldn’t be identified while browsing incognito, and about 22 percent believed both the government and their internet providers couldn’t track their behaviour.
These are all misconceptions, since private mode basically just deletes your browser history and cookies after you close the window.
Your browser history consists of the websites you’ve visited and the text you’ve typed into web forms (for example, when you log in to a website using an email address), while cookies are small files stored in your computer or browser, containing information about your online habits. You can easily delete both your history and cookies in regular browsing mode.
What private mode won’t do is prevent trackers from identifying individual users. In fact, your internet provider can still collect data, such as your IP address, while you browse incognito. Your IP address can then be matched with so-called “browser fingerprints”, which is information your computer makes available to websites so they can be displayed correctly, accounting for screen resolution, operating system, location and language. These browser settings might seem generic, but combined they are actually pretty unique.
Image via Vice