Private Browsing in Firefox

November 5, 2008 – 6:36 AM

Today, a major feature was added to the pre-release versions of Firefox 3.1, called Private Browsing. I’ve been working for quite some time on this, so I thought it may be a good time to write about what this feature is and how to use it.

As you may know, while you browse the web, your browser usually records a lot of data which will later be used to improve your browsing experience. For example, it records a history of all the web pages you have visited, so that later if you need help remembering a site you visited a while back, it can assist you in finding that site. Now, that is great, but there is a downside: those data can be used to trace your online activities. For example, if your coworker sits at your computer, she can view all of your browsing history, which may not be what you want.

Suppose you’re doing something online, and you don’t want your coworkers know about it. An example scenario would be looking for a new employer while at work! One option would be to do your work, and then clear the data that Firefox has stored for you, such as history, cookies, cache, …. But the problem is that this action will also remove the parts of your online activities data which you don’t want to hide, so the history that Firefox records can no longer be used to find a web site you had visited a month before. Private Browsing will help you here.

Private Browsing aims to help you make sure that your web browsing activities don’t leave any trace on your own computer. It is very important to note that Private Browsing is not a tool to keep you anonymous from websites or your ISP, or for example protect you from all kinds of spyware applications which use sophisticated techniques to intercept your online traffic. Private Browsing is only about making sure that Firefox doesn’t store any data which can be used to trace your online activities, no more, no less.


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