On May 13, 2020, an amendment to the Patriot Act (legislation established in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks that permits the federal government to collect private information from United States citizens) was put in front of the Senate. The purpose of the amendment was to protect Americans’ internet browsing and search history data from law enforcement surveillance. Without the amendment, your web browsing data and search history can be obtained by government officials or law enforcement without a warrant. The amendment only needed 60 votes to pass – it got 59.
So with that news, you are probably wondering what, if any, options exist to keep your browser search history safe. Read on for detailed private browsing tools and tips.
What information is stored in a browser history?
Browsing the internet seems innocent enough – you type in a web address and are then taken to that site. If you’ve visited the site before, you may even enjoy the convenience of having the browser autocomplete the address because it’s part of your browser history. But you may not realize that the websites you visit aren’t the only pieces of data stored in your history; in fact, there is a multitude of personal information stored using the two “C’s.”
Cookies – You have probably been warned by a website that they use “cookies.” A cookie is a piece of data sent from a website and stored within your computer. Cookies store usernames, passwords, your name, phone number, and address. Cookies are also used by third parties to track your online visits and activities.
Cache – Browsers store temporary files for you (web pages and other forms of media) using what is called a cache. A cache is a hardware or software component that stores data for future use. Caches can be very convenient, as they help programs or devices work faster the next time they attempt to access identical information. However, a cache also allows others to see the sites you’ve visited just by using your computer.
Cookies and caches can make your online browsing and shopping experiences seamless and convenient. However, they can also provide law enforcement with a clear picture of your online activity and personal data. Luckily, there are still ways to protect your online activity. When you’re in your browser, whether it’s Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Firefox, determine where the browser stores your cookies. Once you’ve found your cookie settings, you can delete your existing cookies, manage how future cookies are stored, and even ban cookies from your browser entirely.
Is incognito mode a way to keep your search history private?
Another way to protect your internet browsing history is by using private browsing options. Google Chrome’s Incognito tab, Internet Explorer’s InPrivate Browsing mode, and Firefox’s Private Browsing mode are all examples of incognito mode options.
Using private internet browsing means your online actions are not stored on your computer. For example, when you log out of a private browser, all cookies collected during your session are automatically deleted. You can confidently use public devices, knowing your usernames and passwords won’t be stored once you log out. Browsing privately also prevents third parties from collecting your data.
However, using an incognito mode isn’t entirely private. Using a private browser doesn’t block your IP address from tracking data. You also have to worry about routers, firewalls, and proxy servers tracking your browsing activities. Websites you visit can still collect data when you’re in private mode as well. Put simply, browsing the internet in incognito mode won’t make you invisible. Your data may still be visible to the internet service provider and, in turn, hackers, cyber criminals, and the federal government.
What browsers offer privacy options?
Another way to protect your online privacy is by using a different browser. Most of us turn towards the common options – Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Bing, and Yahoo, for example. Yet these are the worst when it comes to your online privacy. The browsers that have been found to protect privacy the most include Mozilla Firefox, Apple’s Safari, Opera, and DuckDuckGo. Opera offers script blocking and frequent updates, while DuckDuckGo doesn’t trace your search terms, website activities, or clicked links.
Use a VPN for more privacy online
The best way to browse the internet anonymously is through a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN keeps your IP address hidden and protects your online activity by ensuring your online actions are encrypted using special protocols. Basically, if you use a VPN, your data won’t be able to be read by the outside world. While not failproof, it’s one of the best ways to protect your online privacy and browse the internet with confidence.