Currently, most modern web browsers offer some type of private browsing. Such privacy shields are gaining popularity amongst internet users from all backgrounds, ages, and occupations. Web surfers are starting to realize the real value of their online privacy amid events such as the foreign state interference in the 2016 US presidential elections and Brexit.
Did companies such as the recently shut down Cambridge Analytica completely changed the course of the 2016 presidential election and the Brexit referendum? No one knows for sure, but they certainly had an impact, and sadly, privacy incidents happen more often than they should. Internet users are starting to take matters into their own hands by using tools that somehow mislead them into thinking they browse anonymously.
According to a study published by researchers from the University of Chicago, USA and Leibniz University Hannover, Germany, there is a common misconception that makes users sometimes believe that browsing in incognito mode gives them online anonymity and protects them from malicious software. Incognito mode helps but is not a cure-for-all should you want to stay entirely anonymous while online. And you definitely need antivirus software if you want to surf safely.
How to achieve online anonymity
Private browsing offered by modern web browsers is undoubtedly a good step towards achieving online anonymity, but it isn’t all you need to be anonymous. Surfing the internet with a browser in incognito mode might prevent your browser from storing your browsing history, cookies and site data, and information entered in forms but does not keep your online anonymity intact.
While no one, including your parents or spouse, would be able to determine the sites you’ve visited by looking at your browsing history, your online activities are not a secret to your internet service provider, your employer, and your school. Even though there is no any trace left on the computer, your employer can see the destination of the traffic that goes in and out of your connected device. Private mode browsing does not make you anonymous to the websites that you visit too. So briefly, everyone but your spouse and parents know your browsing habits.
How can you stop them from monitoring your traffic?
The only way to prevent your system administrator and internet service provider from knowing more about the sites you visit is to use a VPN service. When someone, such as your employer or ISP, gets curious about the websites that you tend to visit, all they will see will be the traffic coming in and out of one single place – your VPN service provider. Unless they get a court order, reputable VPN service providers would never share with third parties any details involving your browsing history.
Even if we blindly believe tech companies keep our data secure, things sometimes go sideways. Twitter just advised its userbase to change their passwords, Equifax got hacked leaving hundreds of millions of US citizens vulnerable, and Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled before Congress where he admitted Facebook ‘didn’t do enough’ to protect users. Using incognito mode is indeed a good start, but having a quality VPN service provider is a must should you want to be a step closer towards achieving online anonymity.