How to be sure you have a private browser

You probably don’t want all of your browsing activity to be stored and connected to you. Some might ask why surf privately if you don’t have anything to hide? The truth is you might not have anything to hide, but you have everything to protect.

Do you have curtains in your home? Curtains fill the same need as surfing the web privately. Even if you’re doing nothing wrong, you wouldn’t want everything you do in the privacy of your home to be broadcasted to the world.

The easy first step: incognito mode

There are many names for the privacy feature in browsers: incognito mode, private browsing, InPrivate browsing. They all do basically the same thing. They don’t store cookies, browsing history, form data and web cache from one session to another. This is a good start. However, it will only erase your surfing data on the device that you’re on.

Incognito mode alone isn’t enough for true privacy, though. It doesn’t make you invisible on the web. Even the browsers themselves remind you of this. When you turn on incognito mode on Chrome, it says: “Your activity might still be visible to: Websites that you visit, Your employer or school, Your Internet service provider”.

Chrome Incognito Mode

The essential tool: VPN

When you browse the web, all activity can be tracked by whoever is providing your internet connection, be it your internet service provider, employer, school or even the café giving you free WiFi. They are able to see every single site you connect to, even if it is https encrypted. In case of non-encrypted (http) sites they also can see every single page and everything you write in all of the forms. Incognito mode does nothing to prevent this spooky fact.

There’s also the other side – the site you are connecting to sees your IP address, which can be used to identify you and where you are, often with surprising accuracy.

There is a way out of these two methods of tracking: using a VPN such as F-Secure FREEDOME VPN

When you turn on a VPN, two things happen simultaneously: firstly, your traffic gets encrypted, so whoever is providing your internet connection sees only that you are connected to a VPN and something encrypted is going through the connection. They cannot know what your traffic is. Secondly, the sites you are connecting to don’t see your real IP address anymore. They only see VPN’s IP address and location, both of which are shared by thousands of people, so you cannot be personally identified.

Tracking cookies

Even when in incognito mode, tracking cookies are saved – despite the fact that they are discarded after the session. So you can still be tracked during the browsing session. Luckily enough, FREEDOME VPN includes tracking protection that will automatically block unnecessary third party tracking cookies. You can also install browser add-ons such as Privacy Badger that will block tracking cookies even when your VPN isn’t on.

Browser fingerprinting

There are technologies that enable fingerprinting your browser, allowing you to you to be identified. Many browser configurations are unique like fingerprints (hence the term “fingerprinting”). You can test your browser at Panopticlick. It is surprisingly likely that your browser has a unique fingerprint.

The way out is to use an alternate browser whenever you want to get truly private. Some browsers are geared towards privacy, but you go a long way by switching to alternate browser for added anonymity. 

Your usual web browsing happens in one browser and your private browsing in another. If somebody really goes through the effort, they might be able recognize that your alternate browser’s sessions come from the same browser, but even then they cannot connect it to your primary browser that you’d use for anything which reveals your personal data such as social networking.

There are solutions to obfuscate and randomize your browser fingerprint by browser add-ons or make it more generic by disabling JavaScript. As of writing this, there isn’t a foolproof way to get around fingerprinting that would also be easy enough for everyday user. (If you really really want to avoid fingerprinting and you are an advanced user, boot into Tails or other livebootable operating system. That is hardly convenient, though.)

Two tools to rule them all

To sum up, if you want to make your browsing private, incognito mode and a VPN such as F-Secure FREEDOME VPN are your essential tools. You can add an additional layer of privacy by using an alternate browser whenever you want to get extra private.

You can try F-Secure FREEDOME VPN free for 5 days. No credit card or even an email address needed.

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