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Is your browser’s private mode actually private?

Published Mar 11th, 2016 1:34PM EST

Modern Internet browsers have private or incognito modes that let you surf the web without leaving any traces. That is, you’re not leaving any traces for anyone using the same computer once you’ve done with your session. Your searches and viewing history will not be recorded for others to see, which can be useful both at home and at work.

But that doesn’t stop third parties from tracking your activity. In fact, private browsing functionality is probably the most misunderstood feature of web browsing.

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First of all, you need to know that private modes will not hide away your downloads or bookmarks, so get rid of those manually if you don’t want to leave any traces.

Moving on, Gizmodo points out that Internet Service Providers and your employer can still track your activity if want to. So it’s probably not the best ideas to visit NSFW sites or download illegal content from behind the fake anonymity of private mode, at least not while at work.

Similarly, websites and apps can and will recognize you as long as you’re logged in into certain services that track you on a constant basis. Sites including Facebook, Amazon and many others will know what you’re doing and use that information to target you with ads. The same goes for practically any website that has a cookie on your computer, which can be used to track your browsing.

Even some browser extensions will track you, Gizmodo further notes, as not all of them will honor private browsing modes.

Finally, if you have any keylogger apps installed on your machine, or other security tools – you’ll probably be unaware that’s the case – they’ll still track what you type and what websites you visit. In fact, these surveillance programs will track everything, all the time, without your knowledge.

So if you feel like you need to hide your browsing at work, then you should probably avoid doing it in the first place.

Chris Smith
Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he closely follows the events in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises. Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.