Google knows perfectly the browsing history of each user. He also knows everything he buys online and even the porn he watches even if he does it in incognito mode. Browsing the Internet without leaving any kind of trace is practically impossible with traditional search engines. Despite the fact that both Google and Mozilla allow the user the option of searching in a private session, this function does not guarantee anonymity at all. What exactly does it mean to navigate in incognito mode? Who can collect information on user activity? What are the differences compared to sailing in the traditional way?

“Incognito mode is effective when we want our activity on the web to be unknown to other users on the same team. For example, if we are looking for a gift for our partner or if we want the sessions that we have active in our browsers to be ignored. But, apart from this, it does not provide great protection for our privacy ”, explains Javier Tallón, member of the Computer Security and Defense Group of the General Council of Colleges of Computer Engineering (CCII).

When a user browses in incognito mode, the browser protects him in two ways. On the one hand, it stops saving information about the websites it accesses in the browsing history. This way, other users with access to the computer cannot see which pages you have visited.

“Incognito mode is effective when we want our web activity not to be known by other users of the same team”

On the other hand, the browser does not use the cookies that the user has previously stored: “Cookies are small elements of information that web pages save in our browsers and that allow them to remember what actions we have previously performed: what we have in our shopping cart. Buy on Amazon, who we are on Instagram or where we are watching the last chapter on Netflix. ” Tallón, who is also co-founder and technical and operations director of jtsec Beyond IT Security, adds that cookies are used to “offer us targeted advertising or study our behavior.”

Google explains on its website that when browsing in a private window “Chrome does not save your browsing history, cookies, website data or the information entered in the forms.” For its part, Mozilla indicates that “private browsing automatically deletes your browsing information such as passwords, cookies and history.” Additionally, Firefox includes content blocking. With this feature, it aims to prevent hidden trackers from collecting user data on websites and slowing down your browsing experience.

Both companies acknowledge that by browsing incognito mode, user activity remains visible to the websites they visit, your company, educational center or Internet service provider. “The private browsing mode does not guarantee anonymity on the Internet”, explains Mozilla on its website.

That is to say, the use of the incognito mode basically frees the user from the curious domestic, but does not mask his identity or online activity. When browsing the Internet, the data passes before reaching its destination through the user’s home or workplace network and by the company that gives them access to the Internet. “We must be aware that using incognito mode will not prevent our boss from knowing which web pages we have visited from our work computer. Nor will we be able to prevent our internet provider from identifying and possibly recording our browsing activity, ”says Tallón. Even if the use of cookies is renounced, “large companies use advanced techniques through which they are able to create profiles of our devices, allowing them to identify us uniquely or with a low margin of error.”

An indelible fingerprint

By surfing the Internet, users leave a digital footprint that companies that make a living from data take advantage of. They collect all kinds of information: “The pages we visit, the city where we live, the place where we work, who we are with, the programs that we have installed on our computer along with their brand and model, our social networks, if we are standing, sitting or lying down or even other teams on our same local network. ”

There are certain habits that can help the user to protect their privacy when they browse the Internet — regardless of whether they do so incognito or not. For example, “check the privacy settings on your social networks, do not connect to public networks, check to see if the padlock is activated in the address bar when browsing a website and, above all, assume that the information you share is not so private as they believe. “

Using incognito mode basically frees the user from the curious in-house, but does not mask their identity or online activity

The user can also choose to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network). It is a service that creates a tunnel between the computer and the destination machine through which the data travels encrypted. “It can be used to protect our data in transit from our terminal to the servers of the company that offers the service, preventing us from being spied on by our Internet providers or other equipment on our network and hiding our IP address. The VPN services also filter our activity on the Internet and the companies are located in countries where the legislation provides special protection of privacy, such as Switzerland or Panama, ”Tallón explains.

For desktop browsers, different extensions can be useful and can be installed quickly. Privacy Bagder blocks trackers in Mozilla Firefox, Facebook Container prevents Facebook from tracking a user over the Internet, and Cookie AutoDelete deletes cookies when a Firefox tab is closed. There are also alternative services that can help the user to safeguard their privacy. Tallón mentions DuckDuckGo for web searches, Protonmail for storing email, OsmAnd for maps, Signal for instant messaging or Sync and OwnCloud for cloud storage.