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Incognito on the web

By Jean-Claude Elias - Feb 20,2020 - Last updated at Feb 20,2020

Remaining anonymous while browsing the web, or performing any online task for that matter, has become more and more of a challenge. Despite attempts and promises by the major grids, including the so-called social networks, and by most software applications you would download and install, be it on fixed computers or on mobile devices, to respect your privacy and to treat you ethically, by now we all know the limits of these futile promises.

Although a very minor part or the population needs to remain “unknown” on the Internet for illegal, reprehensible or immoral reasons, the vast majority of us just want peace of mind and to avoid annoying, uncalled for pop-up screens and distracting ads, not to mention the perfectly justified wish not to disclose our profile, personal taste and living habits to the wide world.

There are already ways — as it was mentioned in this very column a few weeks ago — to hide your IP, the Internet geographic location you are connecting from, by using VPN (Virtual Private Network) software. A friend recently told me how frustrated he felt when he could not watch Season 3 of the British-Irish crime drama TV series The Fall on Netflix, because the system knew that he was in Jordan, and that Netflix didn’t have the broadcasting rights for that last Season for the country, whereas Seasons 1 and 2 were available!

He just got himself a VPN on his computer, ExpressVPN in this very case, signed up for a new Netflix subscription and set his location in the United States. Et voilà.

However, for those who want to go to the web without having the browser record and save every single product they search or shop for, every page they visit and every piece of news they read, there are ways that are simpler than installing VPN software. Indeed, VPN, though not really complicated, is still just too much for the layman, for the non-technically minded, and besides, a good, fast and powerful VPN, one that would perform fast and preserve high-definition audiovisuals, involves a paid subscription, most of the time. Not everyone is willing to pay for this extra peace of mind.

The simpler method consists of opening an “Incognito” page if you are using Chrome, or a “New Private Windows” if your browser is Safari, instead of a standard Internet page. The command is easy to find. Nothing could be simpler, and yes, it works flawlessly. As the definition of the word has it, going incognito is “having one’s true identity concealed”.

Browsing the web this way means that Chrome, or Safari, or Edge, will not remember anything from your browsing; a very convenient scope of work in many an instance. It is truly what privacy is about in the end, and yet, quite strangely, most users are not even aware of the existence of this functionality, of this obvious option, in their web browser.

Whereas working incognito has advantages, it is at the same time worth remembering that in many cases we do want our browser to remember the pages we visited, the passwords we entered, the shopping we made and the friends we contacted.

The wise user therefore will be careful not to overdo it. By default, browsing the web “normally”, by opening the standard pages, is the way to work. Going incognito would be the exception, and should be put to good use only when and if truly needed.

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