Firefox Private BrowsingTo give you a more robust and seamless online experience, the web browser on your computer will typically store all sorts of data about the websites that you visit. This way, you don’t have to sign back into accounts and certain content that’s accessed all the time can load more quickly. However, you may not always want to have that and that’s why the private browsing feature can be so useful.

Using private browsing is one of the ways you can stay anonymous online, because it’s like opening a fresh browsing session each time, devoid of your previous cookies and browsing history. When you close that private browsing window, that session is destroyed and it’s almost like it never happened.

Even though they may seem similar and they have a lot of common features, there are some notable differences between the private browsing features in Google’s Chrome, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and Mozilla’s Firefox.

Common Features

Let’s start with what is the same. All of these web browsers have password managers where you can save the passwords to websites that you frequent. If you open a private browsing window, those saved passwords are not accessible and, on the flip side, any “saved” passwords in a private browsing window are deleted upon closing that window.

Similarly, a private browsing window will not save temporary Internet files to your permanent cache and it will not save a full history of your visited webpages. Normally, you can look through your history to see where you’ve been, but sites visited in private browsing won’t show up there. The same can be said about your download history and form data.

Thankfully, it’s really easy to activate and deactivate the private browsing feature in any of these three web browsers. There’s usually a keyboard shortcut: Chrome uses CTRL+SHIFT+N, for example, but the feature is always available through the main menu.

It’s important to note that private browsing is not the same as safe browsing. It’s just as easy to fall victim to phishing scams, Trojan horses, viruses, malware, and other nasty things when browsing privately, so you should exercise the same kind of caution.

Google Chrome Incognito Mode

One of the more useful ways to use the Incognito Mode in Chrome is if you want to have two concurrent Google sessions with two different Google accounts. If you want to check two Gmail accounts at the same time, for example, you can do that with having one regular window (for your primary email) and one Incognito window for the other email. This is because the cookie and session data is kept separate. You can even have Incognito in the mobile version of Chrome for smartphones and tablets.

By default, any extensions that you have in Chrome, like the one for Pocket, will be disabled in an Incognito window. However, you can go into the extensions menu to enable the ones that you would like to work in Incognito.

Microsoft Internet Explorer InPrivate Browsing

While InPrivate Browsing in MSIE works in much the same way as Chrome’s Incognito, there’s one critical difference worth mentioning when it comes to security and confidentiality. It’s true that the history of webpages visited is not saved in the regular place it is saved, so people going through the regular history won’t see where you’ve been during an InPrivate Browsing session, but that data is still being saved to index.dat files.

These special files aren’t regularly accessible and they cannot be opened in Notepad, but it’s possible for someone with the right tools and software to decode these files and, thus, view your “private” browsing history.

Mozilla Firefox Private Browsing

While Chrome extensions are deactivated by default in Incognito, Firefox add-ons are activated by default in Private Browsing. If you would really like to have a completely private browsing session where the add-ons are not able to track or save your activity, then it’s best to deactivate these add-ons before proceeding with a private session. Interestingly, Mozilla Firefox is the only browser on this list that allows you to start every session in private by default. You just have to select the option in the menu.

Image credit: vurter / Flickr

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