Thursday, March 17, 2011

Defaulting to private browsing mode

It's common lore that the private browsing modes are there so that people surfing for Internet pornography can hide their tracks from others with whom they share a machine. But I've recently switched to using private browsing mode all the time.

And now I wish browsers allowed me to configure them to, by default, always operate in private browsing mode. I'd like to flip the logic and have an explicit public browsing mode when I want the browser to remember where I've been and what I've entered.

In private browsing mode the browser:

1. Forgets the history once I close it. Handy since I rarely need to review my history and no one needs to know that I spend my time browsing web sites about this.

2. Deletes any cookies. So, this helps to foil tracking by advertising companies and since I never use those 'remember me' options on web sites I don't need cookies to hang around between sessions.

3. Forgets about anything I enter into forms. This seems like a sensible security measure. Really no reason for the browser to be remembering my address, or credit card number or other sensitive data.

4. Forgets any passwords. I have a whole scheme for dealing with passwords and use two-factor authentication when it's available. No need for the browser to be storing them.

So, which browser is going to be the first to offer a by default incognito mode?


Evan said...

Firefox has the option now (at least the OS X version 3.6 does). Preferences -> Privacy - > Automatically start Firefox in a Private Browsing session.

Jacob said...

Firefox has an option to run in private mode every time you launch. It is not "default" in that users must activate it once. But it becomes the default once chosen. Just go to options -> privacy and tell it to never remember history. This is just like private mode on every launch.

Vivek Jishtu said...

Make a shortcut for IE with command line parameter "iexplore.exe -private" and you will always be in private mode.

Daniel Einspanjer said...

It sounds like your usage pattern is pretty different from most users. I am pretty privacy conscious, but I definitely like to keep my history around because it helps me get back to useful reference pages and such without having to remember to bookmark each one.

I prefer to have cookies erased at the end of my browsing session by default and explicitly allow ones from sites I want.

If sites are set up properly, your credit card number would never be saved in a form field. You can't rely on the site to be set up properly of course, so that is something that I manually manage because I do prefer the convenience of keeping field values like name and address.

Each of these different areas can be configured to your preference in most browsers. Certainly in Firefox I know, because I use it.

If these features were turned off by default, many people wouldn't learn about them and would figure that the browser was broken or sub-standard and just switch to one that offered a more feature-rich default configuration.

Dotan Dimet said...

google-chrome --incognito

Michael said...

Opera has long been able to do this. Never remember passwords or form data, clear cookies on program exit, clear memory cache on exit, highly configurable URL history...the list goes on.

Now, if we could only get Flash to so easy to configure...

x said...

Your argument goes like this:

1. I rarely need this;
2. I never use this;
3. I don't like this [I don't know much about it, but I don't care anyway];
4. I have a complicated scheme, therefore don't need this;

So, when will they make this default?

I hope you appreciate that this behaviour is by no means the typical behaviour of the users of these products. Many users never change the default settings and therefore never see that their browser can remember their frequently visited websites. In such a market, any browser that offers this by default wins.

I do agree that the privacy of the less technical users are more in need of automatic protection, and browsers shouldn't by default allow cookies to be saved or scripts to be run. But I can see how it could frustrate users like my dad if they are constantly asked to confirm dangerous scripts or unknown cookies.

* p.s. "I don't know much about this" above refers to the fact that no browser/website combination I know of ever remembers credit card information.