Lots of folks have started using their web browser’s Incognito or Private Browsing mode in an attempt to hide their online activities from prying eyes.
And with hackers, identity thieves, and even the NSA snooping into our online world, who can blame them?
Other folks who might have nefarious intentions also browse in Incognito mode in an effort to avoid being tracked down by the authorities.
The question is, does private browsing really keep your online activities private? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is no.
Visiting websites with Incognito/Private Browsing mode enabled will prevent your web browser from storing most of the “History” information associated with your online activities, but it is far from fool-proof.
For starters, your PC maintains a local DNS Cache that helps speed up the delivery of web pages and files that you have already accessed before.
These stored “DNS Lookups” will tell anyone with access to your PC (either physically or over the Internet) exactly which websites and online services you have been using, even if you have Private Browsing enabled.
Your IP address is also transmitted across the Internet with virtually every snippet of information that you send to a remote website.
This information is stored on numerous servers (including your ISP) as the info “hops” from server to server and router to router as it makes its way to its intended destination.
A look at the logs on any one of the servers in the “chain” would give a third party (i.e. the NSA, the FBI, or even a tech-savvy private investigator) a good idea of what you’ve been doing online.
And in case you’re wondering, even the use of a proxy server isn’t fool-proof if your goal is to hide your IP address and/or your physical location. There are entities out there who possess the skills, tools and authority to track you down.
What’s more, many companies that provide VPN services and proxy servers can and do cooperate with law enforcement when supplied with a court order.
Finally, there are the servers hosting the websites and online services that you communicate with. Your online interactions with remote websites and services are almost always logged locally on their end.
Should their servers become hacked or confiscated by the authorities, everything stored on them – including records of your interactions with the website or service – will be available to the entities now in control of the servers.
Bottom line: Incognito or Private Browsing mode only goes so far in helping keep your online activities private.
As I’ve said before, there’s really no such thing as privacy on Facebook and the Internet at large. Keep that in mind the next time you fire up your web browser in “incognito mode”.
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