Maybe you've been using the home computer and Internet Explorer to research a surprise city break for your partner, perhaps you're looking for birthday gifts online and you have an inquisitive teenager who knows your password. You can have the best intentions in the world but still want your browsing history to remain private.
So how do you maintain your privacy when you're using the Internet? And just how private is InPrivate browsing?
What does it mean to be using the Internet in InPrivate browser mode?
InPrivate browsing mode allows you hide the URLs of any websites you visit so that they don't show up in your PC's browsing history. When you're not in InPrivate browsing mode your browser stores which websites you visit, ostensibly to make it easier for you to return to the site without having to remember the address or bookmark it. So what if you DON'T want that address to be stored - particularly if you are using a shared computer?
Turn on InPrivate browsing mode and it will instruct your browser to NOT record which websites you visit, and not to enable cookies - i.e. the small data files that remember info you have input to make a return visit to the site easier.
So, you've got what you wanted, right? You're browsing the Internet safe in the knowledge that no-one will ever know what websites, goods or services you've been looking at. Well, not quite because although private browsing mode is undeniably a barrier to people seeing what you're looking at when they log on to your PC, there are a few things to bear in mind. And if you're concerned about your IP address then InPrivate mode won't help you feel better.
When private browsing mode isn't quite so private
- If you use Internet Explorer, note that although it won't store your browsing history when you have activated their version of private browsing, it will capture which websites you have installed SSL certificates on. Likewise if you have instructed a site, while browsing in IE, to not download cookies, or display pop-ups, that data will be retained.
- In addition to this, if you save a website's address to your favorites folder, or download any any files, apps or software, these will be saved on your PC even if you save or download them during a private browsing session.
- Just because you have private browsing mode switched on, don't think that your IP address is offering you the same level of privacy. Your Internet Protocol address denotes which computer network you are connected to - and from where. And that means that anyone who is able to track IP addresses, can tell what sites you’ve been looking at via traffic relayed to the relevant servers.
- Likewise, whether you're browsing from your home, your office or from a remote location, whichever Internet Service Provider you are going through, they will still be able to monitor traffic and record that data - private browsing mode or not.
No matter what tracks you are trying to cover when you're online, you need to be aware that browsing the Internet in private mode is not quite as watertight as it might appear - or you might hope that it is. What we mean by that is that even if your 15 year old son can't see that you've been comparing prices for the latest must have sneakers, the websites you've visited, and your Internet provider can. As far as that goes, objective achieved. But if you have a very real need to be browsing in private mode, then you need to be aware that this data is not 100% bona fide top secret.
What does that mean for you?
Whether your searches are innocent, or you have a genuine need to cover your tracks, InPrivate browsing mode is of varying degrees of usefulness. The good news for those wishing to activate the mode is that many search engines offer their own version of it - all called something slightly different, but all operating in pretty much the same way. If you're sticking with Internet Explorer for the time being, check out your provider of choice and enjoy surfing undercover. And if you really want to browse the Internet in anonymity you need a VPN as this will go one step further than private mode and hide your IP address - from everyone. It also encrypts data and traffic meaning that if you really don't want anyone to know which sites you visit, it's your only option.