While private browsing is mostly associated with browsing the naughty parts of the Internet it can be used for a wide variety of other things as well.
Private browsing refers to a mode that web browsers offer that leave little traces behind. This means that no browsing history is recorded and that data is only stored temporarily for the browsing session and deleted afterwards.
It needs to be noted that private browsing is not 100% anonymous on either side. Internet sites and servers for instance record activity just as usual and operating system features such as a DNS cache may also record data.
Lets take a look at how a browser's private browsing mode is turned on.
So what can the private browsing mode be used for then?
1. Signing in to multiple accounts on the same site
The Private Browsing mode runs in an independent browser instance which means that it won't affect what is happening in the regular browser. This means that you can sign in to the same site or server using a different account to be signed in to two accounts at once.
Even better: since cookies are not stored you are automatically signed out of any account that you signed in while in private browsing mode.
2. Check a site as a new user
Since cookies are not carried over, sites cannot use them to identify you when you load them. While there are other means available, such as comparing IP addresses, most sites don't do so.
This means that you can check the contents of a site as a default or new user. Can be useful if you want to compare prices to make sure you don't have to pay more as an existing customer.
Some paywall sites may also let you through while the private browsing mode is active since cookies are often used to limit your access to those sites.
This can also be useful for development purposes. Say you are signed in as an admin or moderator in normal mode and use private browsing to check the site as a new user.
Another reason for this is if you don't want a site to use searches for recommendations. If you search on Amazon or eBay while logged in, the sites may display recommendations to you on your next visits based on those.
Last but not least, this can also be useful on sites that put you in a bubble such as Google Search.
3. Sign in on a third-party computer
If you need to check your email or other data on a computer that you don't own, or let someone check it on yours, you may want to use private browsing for that.
If someone wants to use your computer, your browsing history, bookmarks and accounts are not exposed as private browsing is always in a blank state when turned on.
The benefit on a third-party PC is that data accumulated over a session is deleted automatically at the end of it provided that you close the private browsing window.
4. Gift shopping and surprises
While there are other means to avoid that someone else can find out about the pages you have been to, private browsing mode does that nearly automatically.
This can be useful if you shop for gifts or surprises, especially on a family computer with just one account or if the computer is left turned on and accessible to others sometimes.
Private browsing is not the only option that you have for all the things mentioned above. You can easily use a second browser or even a second profile for a single browser instead. It is then necessary to configure the browser to forget all the usual information, for instance by configuring it to delete browsing data on exit or running a third-party tool like CCleaner regularly.
With that said, private browsing can still be useful to users as it can be easily accessed in each browser.
Now You: Are you using private browsing? If so, for what?
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.