Many internet browsers now come standard with a private browsing feature, such as Google Chrome’s Incognito. When this feature, the browser disables extensions (which often record information for autofill) and fails to record any history or cookies. This makes the sites you visit “secret,” in the sense that other users of the computer won’t be able to see what you’ve been doing, but the information is still visible to your internet provider, malware present on the computer and sites that you have logged into once opening the private window.
“Private browsing” is perhaps a bit of a misnomer, given that computer’s IP address, which contains location and operating system information is not masked and therefore sites will still cache your visit on their servers even though your browser’s history may be clean. Establishing a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is arguably the most secure way to encrypt your information and protect your identity, but private browsing offers benefits as well.
Third party services that utilize tailored advertising, like many social media sites, collect data about users’ browsing histories; however, while using private browsing, the relay of information to such sites is interrupted (meaning that lame Christmas present you bought for your weird cousin won’t affect the rest of your searches or suggested items). Nevertheless, if you log into a site, such as Facebook, while in a private window, searches made within that window would subsequently be linked to the account. Conversely, this can be used to access “pure” or “unbiased” searches while not logged into any account.
Perhaps the most underutilized function of private browsers, however, is the simplicity of using a friend’s computer to access personal accounts without causing them the inconvenience of logging out of theirs or having to worry about the privacy of yours. Additionally, with many school presentations being digital, many students can each open their own emails and files without affecting the others’.
Private browsing can be useful for online banking or accessing medical records, adding an extra layer of security to passwords and transactions, which will not be cached. Using a private window can be useful for many reasons beyond hiding browsing history and search data, however. They can also be used as a workaround for paywalls, which allow visitors a certain number of free articles, for example, before having to pay for a subscription.