Is Firefox’s Private Browsing Really Private?

We all have our browsing habits when we are on the internet that we would like to hide. Some of us may visit adult web sites that we would like to keep secret. Others of us may have a secret innocent passion that is embarrassing and we do not want anyone to know about. And you might want to keep your privacy for something that is not embarrassing but is personal like your banking information. No matter what it is, you sometimes want to be able to keep your browsing habits between you and the computer and some of the browsers that are out there are addressing these concerns.

While all of the major browsers out now have some sort of command where you can browse the web in confidence, Firefox is one of the first and also one of the best to do it right now. Firefox has a mode that is called private browser that allows you to browse the internet in confidence. But the question is does it work?

how private is your web browsing?

how private is your web browsing?

How does Firefox’s private browser work?

To start off if you are using Firefox’s version before 4.0 then you start by hitting the Tools tab and hit private browser. If you are using 4.0 and above then you hit the big orange tab in the upper left hand side of the browser and then you hit private browser. Once it is pressed it will ask you what do you want to block while you are surfing the web. These are the things that will be saved on the computer that is able to identify where you have been surfing at. It will block things like cookies, the history reports and numerous other aspects that can report where you were. In more recent versions of Firefox you are able to go back to a web page that you have been to before through the use of the browser’s address bar. When you start to type in a web site’s address in the address bar it will drop down several selections that you can choose from where it might think that you are going. When you hit private browser button this will no longer work anymore. It will have no record of where you have been to while private browser is activated.

The problem with private browsing in Firefox

People get the wrong idea when it comes to private browsing in Firefox. They tend to think that it truly means 100% private browsing. That if they turn it on, no matter what illegal web site they have been to, that no-one will be able to get that information. That is not true. Private browsing is made for other people who casually use your computer to not be able to get information from that particular browsing session. Anyone who is a professional and really wanted to know which web sites you visited would have one of two options. They could take your computer and read your hard drive through the use of special tools. You have to remember that when you delete something on the computer it means that the space has been freed for other data to go over top of it. The data is not gone yet. Anyone with the right tools can go back and gather the data up which is going to include web sites that you visited. The images, files, and other things have to download to your computer for the browser to be able to show them.

Another way that someone can follow your tracks on the web even if you are using private browser is to go to your ISP. The letters ISP stand for Internet Service Provider and they are the ones who you go through to be able to connect to the internet. Whoever you pay your monthly internet bill to is your ISP. They keep records for a short amount of time of web sites that have been visited. They even have your IP address stored so they know who on their network visited what site. If they are given a court order then they must reveal whatever information they have about your surfing habits. So as you can see even though you have private browser on, there are still ways to get your web visiting history.

This is not a problem with only Firefox. All of the browsers have the same problem. When you turn private browser on, Firefox will even warn you that the feature is not 100% protection of your identity on the internet. If that is what you are looking for then you might want to check out a technology known as TOR. It’s not 100% either but it is a lot better than any other options out there.

About Lee Munson

Lee's non-technical background allows him to write about internet security in a clear way that is understandable to both IT professionals and people just like you who need simple answers to your security questions.


  1. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks, Lee. Your article answered my questions exactly.

  2. Thanks for the info! Oddly it was more informative than most sources I’ve been checking about this topic.

  3. Lame Lee says:

    This is a lame article. We are talking about private browsing not being private. Explain how. Any techie would find this article RUBBISH.. Anyways, ur a retail manager. Good attempt though….

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