What’s in Your Shopping Trail
Anytime you surf online, you leave behind data tidbits. The amount of data varies based on the website you visit and your browser settings. With most shopping sites, you might produce:
- Download history
- Temporary internet files
- Form data
- Web history
- Search history
- DNS lookups
While not all this data reveals the shopping sites you visited or your purchases, it offers clues. To help consumers, many web browsers added a private browsing mode that doesn’t save everything. Each vendor uses slightly different names.
One important point about this browser feature is it not the same as anonymous browsing. The sites you visit and your ISP probably recorded your activity in some manner. If you’re not familiar with what a web site may capture, you can read our article on what a web server log can include.
Although most data elements aren’t saved with private browsing some are. For example, if you create a bookmark or download files to your PC, that data will be retained. The same goes for DNS cache entries although I doubt anyone looks through these to figure out shopping patterns. And if you want to hide a web bookmark, try using the “Mark as private” feature on a service like Delicious.
One other caveat is this mode won’t erase previous web data. For example, if you had visited http://www.amazon.com/ and downloaded a cookie, it won’t be erased when you turn on a private browsing feature. This mode only impacts data during your private browsing session such as a new cookie.
This is a feature that is in Google Chrome 2.0 and newer versions. When you invoke this feature a new browser window opens with an icon in the top left corner that looks to me like a morph of the “Invisible Man” and Mad magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy” characters.
To access a Chrome Incognito Window,
1. Click the Wrench toolbar button on the far right.
2. Select New incognito window from the menu.
3. You should get a new browser window with a text box saying “You’ve gone incognito”.
4. Type in the URL to the site.
Tip: You can also press Ctrl+Shift+N rather than navigating through the menu options.
Firefox also added a private browsing feature with version 3.5 and later. Unlike Google, the title bar clearly states that you’re in Private Browsing mode. Although I like that differentiation, I was disappointed with how existing non-private sessions were handled.
Specifically, if you had a Firefox browser session open and then started a private browser session, the earlier session is hidden. My guess is this behavior is so people don’t confuse what is private versus “non-private”.
The previous non-private sessions reappear only if you use the menu option to Stop Private Browsing. If you simply close Firefox, your previous sessions aren’t restored. This could be an issue if you needed to reference something from one of those sessions before closing the browser.
To start Firefox Private Browsing mode,
1. From the Tools menu, select Start Private Browsing.
2. Click the Start Private Browsing button on the next dialog. If you had other Firefox tabs open, they will disappear.
3. Type in the URL in the address bar.
4. When you’re finished, select Stop Private Browsing from the Tools menu.
Tip: You can also Start Private Browsing by using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+P.
There is also an option to always start in private browsing mode.
Microsoft added its private browsing feature to Internet Explorer 8. Like the other vendors, a separate browser window is opened. I think Microsoft did the best job of alerting you that you’re in a private browsing mode. They append a clue to the end of the browser title bar and add a notation at the front of the browser address bar.
To start an InPrivate browser session,
1. Click the Safety button on the browser’s Command toolbar.
2. Select InPrivate Browsing from the menu.
3. Type in the URL for the website in the address bar.
Tip: You may also start InPrivate Browsing using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+P.
All these private browsing options help preserve the element of surprise when it come to gift giving. Just be aware that you may still have 3rd party programs on your machine that track application usage or websites. And never underestimate kids in this area as they may have already friended the package delivery guy or gal.
Related Browser & Privacy Tutorials
Last Updated (Monday, 07 February 2011 07:31)