Browsing in incognito mode does not guarantee anonymity at all

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User activity in a private session in Chrome and Firefox is visible to both the websites visited and the Internet service provider.

Google perfectly knows the browsing history of each user. He also knows everything he buys on the net and even the porn he sees even if he does it in incognito mode . Browsing the Internet without leaving any trace is virtually impossible with traditional search engines. Although both Google and Mozilla allow the user the option to search in a private session, this function does not guarantee anonymity at all. What exactly does navigating in incognito mode mean? Who can collect information about user activity? What are the differences with respect to sailing in the traditional way?

“The incognito mode is effective when we want our activity on the web is not known by other users of the same team. For example, if we are looking for a gift for our partner or if we want the sessions we have active in our browsers to be ignored. But, apart from this, it does not provide a great protection of our privacy ”, explains Javier Tallón, member of the Computer Security and Defense Group of the General Council of Computer Engineering Colleges (CCII).

When a user navigates in incognito mode, the browser protects him in two ways. On the one hand, stop saving information about the websites you access in your browsing history. This way, other users with access to the computer cannot see which pages they have visited. On the other, the browser does not use the cookies that the user has previously stored: “ Cookies are small elements of information that web pages store in our browsers and allow them to remember what actions we have previously performed: what we have in our shopping cart buy on Amazon, who we are on Instagram or where we are watching the last chapter on Netflix. ” Tallón, who is also co-founder and technical and operations director of jtsec Beyond IT Security, adds that cookies are used to “offer targeted advertising or study our behavior.”

Google explains on its website that when browsing in a private window “Chrome does not save your browsing history, cookies, website data or the information entered in the forms”. For its part, Mozilla indicates that “private browsing automatically removes your browsing information such as passwords, cookies and history.” In addition, Firefox includes content blocking . With this function, it aims to prevent hidden trackers from collecting user data on websites and slowing down your browsing experience.

Both companies recognize that when browsing in incognito mode, user activity is still visible to the websites you visit, your company, educational center or Internet service provider. “The private browsing mode does not ensure anonymity on the Internet,” Mozilla explains on its website.

That is, the use of incognito mode basically frees the user from the curious domestic, but does not mask his identity or online activity. When browsing the Internet, data passes before reaching its destination through the user’s home network or workplace and through the company that gives it access to the Internet. “We must be aware that using the incognito mode we will not prevent our boss from knowing what web pages we have visited from our work computer. Nor can we prevent our internet provider from identifying and possibly registering our browsing activity, ”says Tallón. Even if you give up the use of cookies, “the big companies use advanced techniques through which they are able to create profiles of our devices,

An indelible fingerprint

When surfing the Internet, users leave a fingerprint that companies that live on data take advantage of. They collect all kinds of information: “The pages we visit, the city where we live, the place where we work, with whom we are, the programs that we have installed on our equipment along with its brand and model, our social networks, if we are standing, sitting or lying or even other equipment in our same local network. ”

There are certain habits that can help the user protect their privacy when browsing the Internet – regardless of whether they do so in incognito mode or not. For example, “check the privacy settings in your social networks, do not connect to public networks, see if the lock is activated in the address bar when browsing a website and especially assume that the information they share is not so private as they believe. ”

The user can also choose to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). It is a service that creates a tunnel between the computer and the destination machine through which the data travels encrypted. “It can be used to protect our data in transit from our terminal to the servers of the company that offers the service, preventing us from being spied on by our Internet providers or other equipment in our network and by hiding our IP address. VPN services also filter our activity on the Internet and companies are based in countries where the legislation provides a special protection of privacy, such as Switzerland or Panama, ”explains Tallón.

For desktop browsers, different extensions that can be installed quickly can be useful . Privacy Bagder blocks trackers in Mozilla Firefox, Facebook Container prevents Facebook from tracking a user online and Cookie AutoDelete deletes cookies when a Firefox tab is closed. There are also alternative services that can help the user to safeguard their privacy. Tallón mentions DuckDuckGo to search the web, Protonmail to store email, OsmAnd for maps, Signal for instant messaging or Sync and OwnCloud for cloud storage.

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