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Tech Q&A: Browser privacy mode won't make you invisible

Steve Alexander, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Science & Technology News

Q: My internet browsers have privacy modes with names like "incognito," "secret" and "private," but I suspect they provide less privacy than the names suggest. What do they do?

-- Warren Nilsson, Richfield, Minn.

A: These browser features give you a degree of privacy, but they don't make you invisible.

The "incognito mode" in the Google Chrome browser conceals your identity by not recording some data the browser would normally store. As a result, that information can't be read by another user of your computer, a website you visit or an online hacker. The information that is not recorded includes your browsing history (a list of the websites you have visited), cookies (bits of code that identify you to a website on subsequent visits) and information from online forms you have filled out (such as your name, phone number, and home and e-mail addresses.)

"Secret mode" in the Samsung browser for Android devices, and "private browsing" in the widely used Mozilla Firefox browser do about the same thing as Chrome's incognito mode.

However, you don't get complete anonymity because there are other ways your activity can be tracked. For example, it can be tracked by the IP (Internet Protocol) address assigned to it by your internet service provider, or by the MAC (media access control) address assigned to your computer's network card by its manufacturer.

 

Q: I'm having problems with Discord, the video, voice and text chat service for online game players. The screen on my HP Chromebook becomes pixelated (breaks down into tiny illuminated pieces) or freezes, or the chat sessions are disconnected. I've tested my internet connection, and it seems fine (60-megabit downloads and 10-megabit uploads). What can I do?

-- Kelly Raymond, Richfield, Minn.

A: The problem isn't the speed of your internet service. It is that your Chromebook is relying on a distant web server to handle Discord's demanding computer processing.

This is the result of an inherent limitation of Chromebooks: They lack the computing power for sophisticated graphics processing. As a result, your Chromebook lets the Discord server do all the computing work. That in turn involves a lot of back-and-forth communication that adds lag time to your chat. The delay can cause the display and connection problems you've been having.

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