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Web Tracking (3) - The myth of Incognito browsing & how to increase your privacy

Rami AlbatalJul 12, 2019, 8:04:09 PM
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In is third part of my blog series about privacy and Web Tracking, I will clarify some confusions around Incognito browsing mode, and provide some tips to enhance your privacy and anonymity on the web.

You can check the previous parts here and here.

Incognito Browsing Mode is Not Private

This might be confusing for many people, but first of all, Incognito browsing mode doesn't offer you an anonymous or private browsing experience. Don't worry, if you didn’t know that Incognito browsing isn’t private, you’re not alone! In a survey conducted by DuckDuckGo private search engine 65% of Americans who use private browsing over-estimate the protection that private browsing modes offer, and 76% cannot accurately identify the privacy benefits it provides.

Most Common misconceptions of Private Browsing (USA), Source: https://spreadprivacy.com/is-private-browsing-really-private/

Incognito is an Italian adverb (originated from the later incognitus) that means unknown (https://www.etymonline.com/word/incognito).

The Incognito browsing mode doesn't subscribe to that meaning, and doesn't make you anonymous when surfing the web. It only doesn't record your search and browsing history on your device. So, when someone else uses your device and browser, they will not be able to know the websites you have visited and the searches you have done, this is pretty much what Incognito browsing means.

Tips to increase your anonymity on the internet

All websites, search engines and Internet providers.... and governments can still easily track you across the web. And obviously, Ads can still follow you around in “Incognito” and other “private browsing” modes.

The following tips may help with increasing your privacy.

1- Install a VPN

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. To understand what a VPN does, first you must understand what an IP is. IP is something like a computer passport number. Each electronic device has its own IP address.

Websites register your IP when you visit them, this makes it easy to find your location, your device and therefore your identity.

With a VPN, when you connect to a website you get routed through the VPN server, i.e. instead of your computer IP, the website will only see the IP the VPN provides you.

You can find here a list of popular VPN providers: https://www.cnet.com/best-vpn-services-directory/

If you do not trust VPN providers and you have some technical skills, you can alternatively set your own VPN:

      * How to set-up your own home vpn server

      * How I made my own vpn server in 15 minutes

2- Use more private browsers

TOR

Tor Browser is an internet browser designed for online anonymity. It is a modified version of Firefox with add-ons pre-installed. 

Tor works somewhat similar to the VPN concept. Before connecting to a website you go through “nodes” which are private stations, each with its own IP. So, instead of showing your IP, it will show the IP of the last node you traveled through.

The downside of Tor is that it is slow, because the traffic is bouncing through volunteers' computers in various parts of the world, and some bottlenecks and network latency will always be present. Tor is not for casual usage, but specifically for privacy needs, particularly posting online or searching the deep web.

Firefox

For casual usage you can set Firefox to be secure with the help of add-ons and custom settings. Here is a guide.

Brave

A newer and faster daily-use privacy-oriented browser that blocks ads and trackers. Brave is based on Chromium core code customized with several private-by-default choices.

3- Use a more private search engine

Several search engines has higher respect for users privacy and can be a good alternative to google. These engines do not track your activities or searches, and some of them already reached a very good search results accuracy and high performance. Among them are:

    * StartPage

    * DuckDuckGo

    * SearX

    * Disconnect Search

    * Peekier

For a detailed comparison between them you can check https://www.hongkiat.com/blog/private-search-engines.

4- Use private social networks

New alternative social media leveraging privacy are emerging and growing fast, such as Raftr, Diaspora, Steemit, Mastodon, Parler and others.

Minds.com

While most of the alternatives claim to strictly respect user's privacy, it is hard to verify these claims because the majority is closed source. That's why Minds.com takes the lead thanks to its open-source, free speech, transparency, privacy and democratization principles.

You can access Minds source code here.

I hope this series of blogs was informative, and we will meet again soon with various different subjects.

Resources

    * https://spreadprivacy.com/is-private-browsing-really-private

    * https://www.etymonline.com/word/incognito

    * https://www.cnet.com/best-vpn-services-directory

    * https://restoreprivacy.com/firefox-privacy

    * https://www.hongkiat.com/blog/private-search-engines