Thursday, 6 June 2013

Browser Privacy - What's the fuss?

With Microsoft making a big deal on their current advertising about browsing privacy, I thought it would be a good opportunity to take a look at what Browser Privacy is and how you can use it.

What is Browser Privacy?

Whenever you do anything on the Internet you leave a trace of your actions behind. This can be in the form of cookies, cached files and images stored on your computer, or information passed to third parties and stored for advertising and statistical analysis purposes. And that's all great as it allows web site owners to gain valuable information about traffic to their sites, and can deliver advertising tailored to your interests. But sometimes this information trail can become an annoyance, or leave you open to unwanted malicious attacks - and on a shared computer can easily divulge your information to other users.

Browser Privacy is a term for a number of ways that you can safely browse the Internet without leaving an easy to find trail for other users on your computer. Most browser privacy modes do not hide your actions from your ISP, employer, or websites themselves.

How can I use the Internet in privacy?

Well the answer to this depends on your browser and how happy you are with using additional packages to fully clear the traces of your browsing activities on your computer. With older browsers you need to manually clear the stored history & temporary files from your computer using Cache clearing techniques - and even then you really need to use a package like CCleaner to totally clear the files from your system. Not only is this time consuming, but it can be all too easy to forget to do and the person you've been buying a gift for will suddenly come across it in the browsing history on your shared computer.

With the latest browsers there is another option, the Incognito or InPrivate browsing option.

Using your browser's Incognito mode

Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer 8 introduced the InPrivate Browsing mode to allow total privacy in your browsing. This mode stops the browser from storing cookies and other private data files to your hard drive. It also automatically clears browsing and search history when you close the browser window.

Activate InPrivate Browsing through the Safety menu or by pressing Ctrl+Shift+P. A new window should now open which informs you that you are using InPrivate Browsing and explaining how this works. You can now browse the Internet without any cookies or other data being stored on your hard drive.

While you are using the InPrivate Browsing mode you will find that browser extensions and toolbars will be deactivated.

Google Chrome

From the point of view of ease of use, and hiding your browsing history from anyone you share a computer with, Google Chrome is probably the stand-out browser, providing privacy for your browsing history and the websites you visit may still store information about your visit. 

To use the Google Chrome's Incognito Mode click the Chrome menu on the browser bar and select New Incognito Window or press Ctrl+Shift+N. You can also start Chrome in Incognito Mode from the Start menu if you have it in your Start List.

Once you have entered Incognito Mode you will see a new window with a message explaining what Incognito browsing is and to remind you that you are in Incognito Mode you will notice a shady spy cartoon character in the top left of the browser.

Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla Firefox uses Private Browsing mode to allow you to keep your browsing & searching history safe.

To use the Mozilla Firefox Private Browsing mode click on the Firefox menu on the browser bar and select New Private Window, or press Ctrl+Shift+P.

Once you have entered Private Browsing mode you will see a new window with a message explaining how Private Browsing works. You will also notice that the orange Firefox menu item is now purple and has a mask next to it.


Safari also offers an Icognito mode, called Private Browsing. As with other browsers this mode will keep your browsing history and auto-fill data safe by not storing the data to the computer's hard drive.

To enter Safari's Private Browsing mode click on the Gear icon (also known as the Action menu) in the menu bar and select Private Browsing. Unlike the previously discussed browsers, Safari does not offer a shortcut to enter Private Browsing mode, instructions on creating your own shortcut can be found at MacWorld.

Once you have selected Private Browsing you will see a dialog box asking if you want to turn on Private Browsing and explaining what it is. Clicking the OK button will switch on Private Browsing, but be careful - the only indication that you are in Private Browsing mode is the addition of the word PRIVATE to the end of the address bar.


Opera adds another choice to private browsing, allowing you to decide if you wish to enable it in a new window or a new tab.

To enable Opera's private browsing mode click on Menu or Opera in the top left corner of the browser and highlight Tabs and Windows. Select either New Private Tab or New Private Window. For a new window you can also use the shortcut of Ctrl+Shift+N.

Whichever option you choose a new tab or window will open displaying a message informing you that you are using a Private tab and explaining what that means.

What about my Smartphone or Tablet?

There's good news if you're a Smartphone or Tablet user, as there are browsers available which allow incognito browsing on these platforms too.


If you're an iPad user then you won't automatically be able to use any form of browser privacy while online. The iPad version of Safari does not off this as a built-in feature. There are other browsers available for iPad, which do contain a browser privacy function: Perfect Web Browser is very popular for private browsing, or alternatively you could use Atomic Web Browser. Both of these browsers are commercial applications, but if you share an iPad and are serious about retaining your browsing privacy £1.49 seems a small price to pay for peace of mind.


As with the iPad there is no built-in support for incognito browsing on the iPhone version of Safari. But again there are other browsers available with this feature: Aquari Browser automatically deletes your history, cache  and cookies whenever you exit the app, or Privately will delete your history as soon as you hit the home button on your iPhone and destroys cookies as soon as they arrive - additionally any search box entries in Google are not stored.


If you're an Android user you have a few options available too. You can use Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox as your browser and use the menu options to enable their Incognito or Private Browsing mode as you would on a computer. Additionally there is a popular alternative browser app available for Android called InBrowser which allows full web functionality whilst not recording your browsing history.