Saturday, December 27, 2008

Surf Privately

The new generation of browsers provides a way to surf in private. The browser makes sure your browsing history is not saved to local disk, nor will any cookies or offline files retained when you’re done. This can be useful when using someone else’s machine, or at an internet cafe. While some surfers jokingly call it “porn mode”, try thinking about the amount of information you leave behind when browsing to your bank account, or online email.

In this post, I’ll explain how to use private browsing in your browser of choice, and how to enable it by default. I’ll finish with a tip that will allow you to browse in private whenever you’re on the road.

The browsers I’ll cover are Firefox (version 3.1 beta 2), Google Chrome (v 1), and IE8 (beta 2). Current generation browsers still do not support this feature, and I found it compelling enough to get me to upgrade.

  1. IE8
    Mode name: InPrivate
    inprivateHow to start it: select “Private Browsing” from the “Safety” menu, or click Ctrl+Shift+P. This opens a new window
    How to enable it by default: right-click the icon you use to lunch IE. In the “Shortcut” tab, add the string “ -private” to the target field, and click “Ok”:
    inprivate2From now on, IE will always start in InPrivate mode.
    Learn more about it: type about:inprivate into the address bar

  2. Chrome
    Mode name: Incognito
    incognitoHow to start it: select “New Incognito Window” from the wrench menu, or click Ctrl+Shift+N. This opens a new window
    How to enable it by default: right-click the icon you use to lunch Chrome. In the “Shortcut” tab, add the string “ --incognito” to the target field, and click “Ok”:
    incognito2Learn more about it: here

  3. Firefox
    Mode name: Private Browsing
    privatebrowsingHow to start it: select “Private Browsing” from the “Tools” menu. This will close all your open tabs and reopen the window. When you’re done, uncheck “Private Browsing” and your tabs will be restored
    How to enable it by default: Firefox does not provide a command-line parameter. Instead, type “about:config” into the address bar, and click Enter. Click the “I’ll be careful, I promise!” button. Type “Private” into the filter field, and change the value of browser.privatebrowsing.autostart to “true” by double-clicking it:
    privatebrowsing2 Learn more about it: type about:privatebrowsing into the address bar

Note: private browsing does not mean the server side cannot collect information about you – it just protects the client side (to protect the server side, read How to hide your IP). Also notice, that if you’re prompted to save a password while in private browsing mode, just say NO. The browser will retain passwords that it’s told to save, regardless of the mode.

And a final tip (good for IE8 and Chrome only): remember those 2 shortcuts we’ve altered, to start in private mode by default? Copy those shortcuts to your USB drive. When next you find yourself using a stranger’s machine, just start the browser from those icons. Chances are that the browsers are installed in the same directories on every machine (and if not – such as in the case of 64 bit operating systems, that install to “Program Files (x86)”), just alter the path to fit.

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