July 1, 2009 ~ 09:58pm
And the cycle is complete... Today Mozilla released version 3.5 of their popular Firefox web browser. The browser came with a exclusive Private Browsing mode which by their own words claims: "won't leave a single browsing fingerprint behind for others to discover". As silly as that statement is, Firefox is actually the 3rd browser to ship with such a feature. Chrome by Google (ironically Mozilla's primary "benefactor") introduced "Incognito Mode" last year, and even Microsoft's IE8 beat Mozilla with "InPrivate Browsing" in it's release several month's ago. (Opera I love you too, but you don't have this feature ... yet)
All this privacy feature does is prevent the client (that's you!) from recording basic web history, cookie data or cached versions of web pages (included images). Many were quick to point out that this would be ideal for browsing those "mature" websites that you wouldn't want others to know about. First of all, private or not, there are usually at least 3 entities that can see what you're doing: you, your ISP, and the site you are visiting. I won't even try to bother to figure out if it is forensically impossible to detect anything you did while "privately browsing" (anybody know?).
Even with all that in mind, if your browser does not record your activity there are no rules about what your plugins record. Might those "mature" websites use video? Well surprise: Adobe Flash (which practically powers 99% of the video on the web) does in fact leave little tidbits of webby goodness somewhere deep in your personal computer profiles. Lets not forget an occasional Java applet? And I have no idea how what else people allow their browsers to load and run these days (ActiveX I hate you).
Anyways, I honestly don't think that browsing the web has become any more or less private with all these new releases of software. I just hope people don't get the wrong idea and get themselves into bizarre situations assuming their computer is doing something its not (or vice versa).
But hey, don't let this (possible) shortcoming detract from the many new features that the big browsers have been putting out. Great stuff to see, check it out - in "private" if you want.