Privacy expectations and the unfortunate reality

A recent survey that polled 5,710 Americans on private browsing (aka “Privacy Mode”, aka “Incognito Mode”) revealed that 46 percent of them have used the option at least once, and 32.9 percent of those use it daily.

The survey, performed by DuckDuckGo, has shown that the number one reason people use private browsing is “Embarrassing Searches”:


But the most troubling results of this survey were those regarding users’ knowledge about private browsing.

It should be common knowledge that the private browsing mode only prevents users’ browser history from being recorded on the computer or device they use, and that it does not offer any additional privacy protections. Alas, 66.6 percent of the polled users overestimate the privacy protections of private browsing.

Here are the most common misconceptions regarding the mode:

Privacy expectations and the unfortunate reality

As long as users don’t make the effort to know what they use, what to ask for, and are not ready to boycott software and services that don’t protect their privacy, the situation won’t change.

But it’s not just the users’ fault.

Boycotting services that do not care about user privacy is often difficult:

  • Sometimes there is no other good option, and you need a service to remain competitive.
  • Sometimes the information provided by the operator regarding privacy protections is false, difficult to interpret, misleading, or incomplete – and there are no effective penalties that would stop them putting users’ privacy in danger.
  • Sometimes a company offers protections at the beginning, and slowly does away with them as it attracts enough users to start monetizing the service.

There is no easy solution for this problem. Users should strive to keep themselves constantly informed and demand more protections but, realistically, most of them will never do that. The number of hours in their day is finite and there are other, more pressing needs they need to satisfy.

Unfortunately, privacy is an intangible asset that most people don’t consider at all until they actually suffer real damage from losing it. Until we can come up with an effective way to force them to care and push them to ask for more, all of us are stuck in this limbo.

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