When Google released its Google Chrome web browser, it included a private browsing mode called Incognito Mode. When Microsoft released Internet Explorer 8 it included a Privacy mode. When Mozilla released Firefox 3.0 it came with a Private Browsing mode. In all cases, these integrated browser privacy modes were met with almost universal derision. Most commentators called them Porn Mode, suggesting that the only potential use of private web surfing features was to hide the tracks of those who view pornography online.
At the time, I suggest that people dissing privacy modes were small minded and that, perhaps, if they themselves were not so obsessed with pornography online, there were actually numerous useful, and respectable, reasons to use the private browsing modes on these browsers.
It seems that I might finally be getting some company on my stance. The folks at the “life hacking” website called Lifehacker, for example, recently published a computer tip suggesting that using Google’s Incognito mode was a good way to use someone else’s computer without having to log them off of websites they are using. For example, if your friend Joe is logged into Google Mail, going to check your own Google Mail requires logging Joe off. On one hand, it isn’t that big of a deal. On the other hand, why should Joe have to get logged off for your benefit. Using Incognito Mode denies access to the cookies and browser sessions that are keeping Joe logged in, so Gmail must assume that you are not currently logged in. In fact, it has to assume that you have not been to the site yet. Thus, you can use Gmail and when Joe comes back, so can he.
Ironically, I use the same feature constantly for the same purpose, but not just when mooching some computer time, as the author puts it. In fact, there are tons of legitimate reasons to use privacy modes like Incognito Mode.
I use Incognito Mode or Firefox’s private browsing sessions (I actually use a Firefox extension that lets me use Firefox private browsing without my current session disappearing) to check Gmail on my own PC. I have numerous Google email accounts and sometimes I just need two seconds to see if something showed up in my inbox yet, so I don’t want to log out of my “main” email account.
The same feature can be used to submit links to Delicious or other social bookmarking websites on behalf of a client using the account setup for that purpose by the client, instead of having to log out of your own Delicious account first.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for private browsing modes. It’s nice to see some other writers noticing it too.