Why Browsing in Incognito Mode Isn’t as Private as You Think

iStock
iStock

There are plenty of reasons to try to shield your web activity from prying eyes. You might not want your internet provider to know you’re illegally downloading Game of Thrones. You might not want your employer to see that you’re looking at job boards. Unfortunately, private browsing mode won't help you there, contrary to what many internet users think. Although what you do in private mode doesn’t save in your browser history, it isn't entirely hidden, either, and your activity can still be tracked, according to The Independent’s Indy100.

The site highlights research recently presented at a web privacy conference in Lyon, France, which shows that many people have significant misconceptions about what private browsing really means and how it can shield your information. The survey of 460 people, conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago and Germany’s Leibniz Universität Hannover, found that even when browsers warn users that all their data won’t be hidden when using private browsing mode, most people still come away with major misunderstandings about what will and won’t be hidden about their activity. According to the paper [PDF]:

"These misconceptions included beliefs that private browsing mode would prevent geolocation, advertisements, viruses, and tracking by both the websites visited and the network provider. Furthermore, participants who saw certain disclosures were more likely to have misconceptions about private browsing’s impact on targeted advertising, the persistence of lists of downloaded files and bookmarks, and tracking by ISPs, employers, and governments."

While incognito mode doesn’t store your browsing history, temporary files, or cookies from session to session, it can’t shield you from everything. Your internet service provider (ISP) can see your activity. If you’re logged into your company or school’s Wi-Fi, your boss or school administrators can still see what you’re doing on that network. And if you’re on a site that isn’t secure, incognito mode won’t keep other users on your network from tracking you, either.

According to Chrome developer Darin Fisher, Google tried to make this fairly clear from the outset with incognito mode. In 2017, Fisher told Thrillist that the Chrome team intentionally decided to steer clear of the word “private” so that people would understand that their activity wasn’t totally invisible to others.

Using a VPN along with incognito mode can help anonymize your browsing, but your ISP will still be able to tell when you connect and disconnect, and the VPN company may log some information on your activity, depending on its terms. Overall, it’s just very hard to hide your online activity completely.

Private browsing is useful if you’re using someone else’s computer and don’t want to deal with logging out of their email or social media accounts. It can help you shield your significant other from seeing all the engagement rings you’ve been browsing online. And yeah, sometimes—though we don’t condone this!—you can use it to get around a site’s paywall. But it’s never going to completely hide what you do online.

[h/t Indy100]

Thousands of Disney+ Accounts Are Being Cracked and Sold. Here's How to Protect Yourself

Disney+
Disney+

With an estimated 10 million sign-ups during its debut last week and positive reviews for its marquee original Star Wars series The Mandalorian, Disney’s new Disney+ streaming service has been a resounding success. But making such a high-profile splash is apparently coming at a price. According to CNBC, thousands of consumer accounts are being hijacked and their login information is being shared illicitly online. 

The report, published by ZDNet, alleges that hackers were able to breach usernames and passwords for the service within hours of launch and began distributing them for free or for a fee of $3 to $11—the economy of the black market making a one-time purchase cheaper than paying the standard $6.99 monthly for access to the Disney+ library.

The idea wasn’t to co-opt the accounts but to seize them entirely, using the login to change the email and password associated with the account and locking the consumer out.

A spokesperson for Disney told CNBC that they weren’t aware of any security breach. It’s possible that accounts from unrelated sites were compromised and hackers were able to cull from a database of existing passwords to see if consumers used them for their Disney+ account.

The best way to secure your account for Disney+ or any other service requiring a log-in is to use a unique password for each and avoid obvious parallels to the content. If you’re using “mickeymouse” as part of your login, don’t be shocked if you find yourself locked out of your account one day. Ideally, experts say, the service will eventually incorporate a multi-factor authentication process to make compromising logins—and watching Freaky Friday for free—more difficult.

[h/t CNBC]

Stuck in a Never-Ending Group Chat? Here's How to Stop It

grinvalds/iStock via Getty Images
grinvalds/iStock via Getty Images

The more contacts on your phone, the more likely you will be periodically pulled into the dreaded group chat—a meandering, pestering chain of communication on apps like Facebook or WhatsApp that keeps your cell in a constant state of alert. While some group chats start out informative, they can quickly devolve in utter banality. (One warning sign: a funny nickname for the chat.) How can one free themselves from this chorus and get on with their lives?

David Nield at Gizmodo recently broke down the steps you can take to pull yourself free, though it depends on which chat app you’re using. If it’s WhatsApp, for example, you can go to Settings, Account, Privacy, Groups, and then set who can add you to a group chat. That way, only people in your inner circle can loop you in. If someone who isn't on your approved list adds you to a chat, you'll get a direct message inviting you to join, which you can accept or ignore. If you’re already in group chat hell, WhatsApp will allow you to mute notifications by tapping on the Menu button and selecting Mute Notifications.

Facebook Messenger doesn’t allow you to pre-emptively opt out, but you can exit existing group chats by tapping “i” inside the thread and selecting “Leave Group” in Android or tapping the chat thread and clicking “Leave Group” in iOS.

The same is true of Apple’s iMessenger—you can’t insulate yourself from chats. Once it starts, though, you can leave by tapping the top of the conversation, selecting “i,” and selecting either Hide Alerts (which mutes the chat) or Leave This Conversation. If people in the chat are using SMS, the messages will still come through, however. They have to be either muted or removed from your phone and life entirely.

For tips on how to deal with group chat pain on Twitter and other platforms, head over to Gizmodo.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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