These days, all web browsers offer a function called Private Browsing. Let’s go over what Private Browsing is and isn’t.
Private Browsing allows you to use the internet so that no traces of your surfing are saved or left behind on that computer. Whatever you do while Private Browsing disappears from that computer as soon as you close the Private Browsing window.
You should use Private Browsing if you are at a public computer. For example: At the library, you should always use Private Browsing! Check your email, use Facebook, etc. and when you close your private browsing window, your logins and other website traces vanish. The next person to use that computer will see no evidence of where you surfed, and your passwords will not be saved.
You might also use Private Browsing if you’re borrowing a computer from a friend or employer. That way, when you return the computer, you won’t have to worry about others seeing your internet history or login information. Also, if you’re doing some holiday shopping and worry that your spouse might get nosy, you can use Private Browsing to hide your tracks.
Private Browsing does not anonymize or conceal your internet behavior, outside of the computer you are using. Your activity is still traceable beyond the computer being used to surf the internet. Most ISPs keep logs on what their users visit and do on the internet, and Private Browsing does not prevent that.
As an example, let’s say someone starts a Private Browsing and commits a crime on the internet. Someone will (hopefully) report that crime. A competent investigator will trace the crime to an IP address, which will lead him to an Internet Service Provider. The ISP will (often quickly) cooperate to offer a physical location for that IP address. And then an officer is dispatched to knock on soeone’s door with questions and possibly an arrest warrant.
At the risk of stating the obvious, I will implore you: Do not commit crime over the internet. Treat other people on the internet as you would in meat-space.
Each browser calls their Private Browsing tool something different. So that you can learn the name and usage for your browser, here are some help articles and details for the most common browsers:
Microsoft Edge: InPrivate Browsing
Google Chrome: Incognito Browsing
Safari: Private Browsing
Mozilla Firefox: Private Browsing
Opera Browser: Private Mode