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Issue #827: May 28 – Jun 3, 2023

Q: I think you missed an educational opportunity in your Cookies and Tracking article (Geek Note: I.G.T.M. #821, April 16, 2023). Why not tell people how to search incognito so they aren’t tracked?

 – Jody M.
Inlet Beach, Florida

A: Thanks for writing, Jody.  It wasn’t so much that I missed the opportunity as it is that I’m limited by the length of my column as to how much information I can fit into it.  The column is supposed to be 500-800 words, and I usually go over that as it is, because imparting technical knowledge tends to take a lot of words.

However, have no fear, the educational opportunity has not been lost, and thanks to your submission, you’ve given me the vehicle I needed to make a column about it.  So, let’s discuss.

When you use a browser to surf the web, a veritable treasure trove of information is exchanged between your computer and the Internet, and much of it is left behind on your computer.  These remnant data can be simple and innocuous, or complex and dangerous, depending who you are, and what you do online.  Almost all modern browsers offer a mode or feature to mitigate this, called Private Browsing.

When you engage this mode, you’re instructing your browser to create a temporary session, and isolate it from the main repository of data used in normal, day-to-day browsing.  At the end of the session (i.e., – when you close the browser that’s in Private mode) all the data related to that browsing session are deleted.  This includes all cookies, to include the tracking cookies from the issue Jody referenced, and all cached pages and images, to include any information entered on web forms.

What you should know, Jody, is that Private mode is not a panacea for solving tracking issues in web browsing.  Regardless of local privacy settings, websites have the ability to see what site you were on before visiting, and where you’re headed to after you leave.  Your ISP also can see your complete history, since they accept your connection requests, and feed-back the requested pages.  That makes Private Browsing something that’s handier for hiding your online activities from other members of your household than from Internet bad guys, or law enforcement.  I’m not saying Private Browsing doesn’t have its uses – I just want to be clear on what it does and doesn’t do for you.

As you might expect, each company that produces a web browser calls their implementation of Private Browsing by a different name, and the method by which it is activated also differs from browser to browser.  I can’t possibly cover every browser here, but here is the information for the most popular browsers:

In Google Chrome the feature is called Incognito mode, and is toggled on and off using the key combination [Ctrl]+[Shift]+n or [Cmd]+[Shift]+n if you’re on a Mac.

In Microsoft Edge, it’s called In-Private Browsing, and it is toggled using the key combo [Ctrl]+[Shift]+n or for some reason [Cmd]+[Shift]+p on a Mac

In Apple Safari the feature is literally called Private Browsing, probably because Safari was the first browser to ever implement it.  You can toggle it with the key combination [Cmd]+[Shift]+n.  This feature is also available in the version of Safari on Apple’s iPhone. You can enter it by clicking the double-box icon at the bottom of the screen in Safari, then click the drop-down in the center, and select “Private”.

As I mentioned, Private Browsing is available in most modern browsers.  If your preferred browser isn’t listed here, that key combination seems like a pseudo standard method of toggling it.  If that combination doesn’t work, you need only Google your browser’s name and “Private Browsing” and you’re sure to find the answer you need.


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