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In Private Browsing – What Internet Explorer's Private Browsing Hides & What It Does Not


Microsoft was the first of the main four browsers to introduce what was quickly to become one of the most popular privacy tools around: the In Private browsing function. Once activated, a user could clean their machine of any evidence of where they surfed online during an internet session, so other users of that computer would not see which sites had been visited. The function became a hit, news articles started referring to it as porn mode, and all other major browsers promptly added the same feature to their own services. But what exactly does In Private browsing hide, and what does it not? And how can it work with other services for wider privacy control?

how to activate IE private browsing

There are two ways to open an In Private browsing window in IE 9/10 (you should upgrade if still using IE8). The easiest is simply to open Internet explorer and then just press Ctrl + Shift + P. If you prefer to use the mouse, once IE is open, go to the settings icon in the top right corner of the screen – it is a picture of a cogwheel / gear – and click. Move down to the menu that reads Safety. In that sub menu, you will find the option to activate In Private browsing. A new window will open up.

how do i know if IE private browsing is activated in a window?

You will be able to see that IE Private browsing is activated on a specific window by the blue button positioned near the top left corner of the window. It reads InPrivate.

Internet Explorer Private Browsing function – what it DOES hide

All evidence of surfing done in an InPrivate browsing window will be erased after the session is ended. In specific terms, the moment you terminate InPrivate browsing, Internet Explorer will do the following:

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In Private Browsing
  • Remove Cookies. Cookies are small text files placed on your machine by websites. They serve several functions, such as helping sites customize their pages for you, and storing login credentials for quick sign in. They also allow sites to track your browsing across different sites (third-party cookies). Because of the functions they perform, or just by their very presence on your machine, cookies can easily reveal which sites you have visited to anyone using your computer after you. In Private browsing Internet Explorer offers an effective means of how to delete cookies on the run.

  • Delete browsing history so IE's URL AutoComplete does not give you away. Keeping record of your browsing history helps when you want to revisit pages you viewed before. For one, when you start typing an address in your browser for a site you have already visited before, IE will access your browsing history and recommend the rest of the URL so you don't need to type the entire address. This is known as URL autocomplete. Of course, if you do not want future visitors to your machine to see which sites you have accessed, it is vital you delete browsing history so the URL autocomplete does not flash up with the names of site you have visited. Another user would need to type only the first letter or two of a site you visited and AutoComplete would offer that site as a suggestion. This is the main way shared users of a machine stumble across others' surfing activity. Private browsing gives a means of how to delete browsing history automatically – but it will only delete the history for that session.

  • Empty Cache. Temporary internet files are stored on your machine while you browse – images and multimedia files and sometimes whole web pages. If using In Private browsing IE, the browser will empty cache of all files the moment you terminate the session.

  • Delete Form filling data. One regular function of IE is that it will offer to remember account login credentials for sites you log on to (e.g. web email or social media sites). This allows you to briskly sign in without having to retype your username and password each time. No form filling data will be saved during Internet Explorer Private Browsing sessions, however.

  • Clear Search Autocomplete. As well as the URL autocomplete, searches you make through your browser are also saved and suggested later on when you type the beginning of the same phrase in the search box. When In private browsing Internet Explorer is activated, no such searches will be remembered.

  • Delete crash restore data. IE keeps data about your session in the event of a problem that leads to an IE window crashing. It can use this information to return you to the same websites after restarting the browser. This data could feasibly be used to see which sites you have visited so In Private Browsing IE makes sure this data is never saved. The downside of this is that you may not restore your session if it crashes while you are private browsing.

Continue reading:

Part II: Internet Explorer Private Browsing

Part III: How to Browse Privately

Written by: 
Robin Welles; expats team, internet security team