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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dispelling Some Myths about Private Browsing

In doing my research for my last article, I came across several forums and blog postings that discussed the dangers of private browsing.  Though I think it's great whenever awareness is raised, I discovered that many of these "credible" sources are falling short of their responsibility to ensure their information is accurate (which bugs me).

The latest versions of Internet Explorer and Firefox have a feature called "private browsing."  In Internet Explorer, it's called "InPrivate" browsing and in Firefox it's just called "Private" browsing.  In both cases it can be turned on or off from the Tools menu.  With private browsing enabled, the browser no longer records which sites that it visits.  You won't find record in your browser history, in the cookies folder, or even in the URL drop-down.  It's a feature that was invented to keep people from getting in trouble at work by visiting non-work related sites.  It's also widely used by kids to hide their tracks from their parents and teachers.  It is definitely a feature that parents should be concerned about and I don't want to detract from that concern with this posting.

The incorrect information that I have seen scattered about the Internet is that private browsing is a way that kids can defeat tools like NetNanny, CyberSitter, K9 Web, McAfee Family Protection, and Norton Online Family.  The myth is that if a child enables private browsing, then these parental control applications can no longer detect the sites the child visits. WRONG.  Enabling private browsing doesn't mask the sites that the browser accesses, it merely prevents the site details from being logged by the computer.  The site's URL and content are still examined by parental control software before it is allowed to open in the browser.  Therefore, objectionable sites on your blocked list are still recognized and blocked.  And even if they did get through by some freak circumstance, just because IE or Firefox doesn't log the visit with private browsing turned on, doesn't mean your parental control software is ignoring it in its log (so you will still see it listed).

I tested this extensively for all of the products I listed above and not once could I circumvent the parental control settings by enabling private browsing.  If you have one of these products, rest easy.  As long as they are configured correctly private browsing is no threat.


  1. Mike, thanks for this post. Is there a way to disable the private browsing feature in IE?

  2. Carl. Yes it is possible but it isn't easy and in doing so you have to be very careful as you are messing with the configuration of your machine. Any wrong move could have very serious consequences so if you choose to proceed, be VERY careful. Here is the URL for instructions on how to do it (copy and paste it into your browser to get to the site): ''