I recently needed to browse the Web from a friend’s computer, and really didn’t want to leave traces of where I’d been and what I’d done on his system. I know that normally, Web browsers keep cookies and history and do all sorts of tracking when I browse. Is there some way to temporarily disable this?
We know that some readers will be making assumptions about exactly what it is you were doing with your friend’s computer, but the fact is that there are many reasons that you might want to be able to browse without being tracked. Perhaps you need to purchase an item and not have that item appear in the browser’s cookies, or you want to log into a site and not have the browser save the password.
First of all, be assured that, by default, all modern browsers track and transmit information about every site you visit, and everything you type in the browser. Normally, this is benign behavior, but there are certainly times when you’d like to be able to browse without having the browser maintain information about the session.
Luckily, all modern browsers provide a means of browsing “incognito”, so that all information tracked during the session is discarded at the end of the session. The technique for launching one of these sessions is different in each browser. For example, in Internet Explorer, You can start InPrivate Browsing from the Safety menu, by pressing Ctrl+Shift+P, or from the New Tab page. Learn more about Internet Explorer’s InPrivate browsing here: http://goo.gl/ZNG86z. In FireFox, there are several ways to open a new private browsing window; check out the information here: http://goo.gl/N8Kgso. Chrome calls this mode “incognito browsing”. For information on starting a new incognito session in Chrome, check out the information here: http://goo.gl/EkKhHy.
Doug also points out that there are reasons to use private browsing other than hiding information: We both often need to try Web features using different user accounts. Most browsers cache information about your current logged-in credentials, making it difficult to see what happens when you’re not logged in with your own account. To make this simple, you can start a private browsing session, and the browser won’t carry over your cached credentials. You’ll have to log in again, and therefore emulate what others will see when visiting the page.
Beware (this information is lifted directly from the FireFox page): Private Browsing doesn't make you anonymous on the Internet. Your Internet service provider, employer, or the sites themselves can still track what pages you visit. Private Browsing also doesn't protect you from keyloggers or spyware that may be installed on your computer.