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Lesson 12: Browsing Privately


Browsing privately

Chances are you're already familiar with your favorite web browser. You might use it to make purchases online, fill out forms, or even research personal interests. However, while you're surfing the Web you may not realize that it's possible your online activity is being seen by others. This is because your browser automatically saves a record of your browsing history, and many websites have the ability to track what you click on.

Screenshot of ChromeBrowsing history in Google Chrome

In this lesson, we'll talk about two options you can enable to increase privacy while browsing: private browsing and Do Not Track.

Watch the video below to learn about private browsing.

Private browsing

Photo of a computer lab

You may be wondering why you would need to browse in private. You could choose this option when you're shopping for a gift, researching a sensitive subject (like a personal medical topic), or using a public computer (like at a library). Basically, it makes sense to enable private browsing anytime you want to keep your browsing history confidential.

Understanding private browsing

Private browsing only prevents your web browser from saving your browsing history. This means anyone else who uses your computer will not be able to see your online activity. Unfortunately, it doesn't guarantee security—your activity can still be tracked by websites. We'll talk more about tracking later in this lesson.

Turning on private browsing

Private browsing is available for most web browsers. Here, we'll show you how to enable private browsing in Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari (for Mac computers).

  • Internet Explorer: Click the gear icon Gear icon. Hover the mouse over Safety, then select InPrivate Browsing from the menu that appears.
    Screenshot of Internet ExplorerSelecting InPrivate Browsing in Internet Explorer
  • Chrome: Click the Menu button, then select New incognito window.

    Screenshot of ChromeSelecting New incognito window in Chrome
  • Firefox: Click the Firefox button, then select Start Private Browsing.

    Screenshot of FirefoxClicking Start Private Browsing in Firefox
  • Safari: Click the Safari menu, then select Private Browsing.

    Screenshot of OS X Mountain LionSelecting Private Browsing in Safari

Do Not Track

Photo of woman using computer

In case you weren't aware, websites have the ability to track what you click on. This is usually done to deliver targeted ads to you, but it can also be used for collecting data and making a site run smoother. Currently, browsers let you choose not to participate in this system by offering a Do Not Track option.

Understanding Do Not Track

Do Not Track asks each website you visit to not track your activities. It is similar to the national Do Not Call list. However, website participation in Do Not Track is voluntary, so some of the websites you visit may not honor the request. To learn more about how your browsing activity is tracked, visit our Internet Safety lesson on Understanding Browser Tracking.

Turning on Do Not Track

Web browsers generally place the Do Not Track option in the Privacy settings. By default, most browsers have this feature turned off. You will need to open your browser's privacy settings to enable it.

In Internet Explorer, the Do Not Track option is located in the Safety menu.

  1. Click the gear icon Gear icon. Hover the mouse over Safety, then select Tracking Protection from the menu that appears.
    Screenshot of Internet ExplorerSelecting Tracking Protection
  2. The Manage Add-ons dialog box will appear. Click Tracking Protection, then click Your Personalized List.

    Screenshot of Internet ExplorerClicking Your Personalized List
  3. Click the Enable button.

    Screenshot of Internet ExplorerEnabling Do Not Track
  4. The status of Your Personalized List will change to Enabled. Do Not Track is now on.
  5. Click Close to return to Internet Explorer.

    Screenshot of Internet ExplorerClicking Close

Enabling Do Not Track in other browsers

To view instructions for how to enable Do Not Track in Firefox, Chrome, and Safari, follow the links below:

Older versions of browsers may not support the Do Not Track option. You may need to update your browser to the most recent version.