Jim Fisher

The browser is the software you use to waste time on the internet. Examples include Microsoft Edge, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari for Apple devices. All of these browsers have a handy underutilized feature that can come in quite handy when used properly. This feature is called “InPrivate” mode in Microsoft Edge, “Private Browsing” in Firefox, and “Incognito Mode” in Chrome.

Private mode doesn’t store your recent activity in a browser so is probably most commonly used to hide your tracks when visiting websites you don’t care to reveal to others who use your computer. But there are some other handy uses that you may not know about.

All browsers collect “cookies” that are tiny files that identify your computer to websites. They don’t necessarily contain personal information about “you”-- just your computer. Cookies store your internet browsing history then use that data to display ads based on your interests. For example, if you perform a search for a product on Google or Amazon, you may see ads for similar items. That’s because cookies have told on you. Just yesterday, I was showing my son a web-based loan calculator. Now the entire internet thinks I want to buy a house.

Private browsing prevents cookies from being stored on your computer. In a normal browsing session, sites like Facebook will inundate you with highly targeted ads based on the sites and pages you’ve visited. But in private browsing mode, your internet activity won’t be used against you by marketing companies. Another benefit of private browsing is you can use it to log in to several accounts on the same site, which is useful if, for example, you need to log in to two different Google accounts at the same time.

Some companies use your cookies against you. If you’re a traveler searching for airline fares, you might visit Expedia to check prices. If you check back the next day, you’ll often find the price has increased. The website used your cookie against you to convince you that you need to buy your ticket now before the price goes up even more. If you used private browsing, the price may not have changed. That’s a little scammy, in my opinion, but it’s not illegal.

If you need to login to your email or bank account from a hotel computer or at a friend’s house, you might use private browsing so your login credentials won't’ be stored.

So you may want to ponder how the website you are currently using might use your browser history against you and decide whether or not to make use of private browsing.

Although private browsing does prevent your web browser from storing cookies, it doesn’t keep your online activities 100% private. Illegal activities can still be revealed. Your internet service provider (i.e. AT&T or Comcast) still knows what sites you visited and system administrators at your office may still keep track of what you’re browsing even if you use private browsing.

Jim Fisher owns Excel Computer Services in Florence. Reach him at www.ExcelAL.com