Brave's Forgetful Browsing Does What You Thought Incognito Mode Did All Along

But you won't want to use it on every website

  • Private Browsing only hides your history from your own computer.
  • Brave's Forgetful Browsing actually stops sites from remembering you.
  • Cookies can be used to track you, but they also make the web much easier to use. 
An overhead view of someone using a laptop with the Brave browser open on the screen.

Stocksnap / Mockup Photos

Safari's Private Browsing and Chrome's Incognito mode do the opposite of what many people think they do. Brave's new Forgetful Browsing feature fixes that.

Websites collect an absurd amount of data about who we are and what we do. Fortunately, browsers are fighting back, giving us the tools to block trackers, but this has led to an arms race where ad tech and other privacy-compromising services work out new ways to track our activity between different websites. Brave, a browser that sells itself on comprehensive protection, has just introduced Forgetful Browsing, a feature so effective that you probably don't want to leave it on all the time. 

"Forgetful Browsing can provide an extra layer of privacy by preventing websites from tracking your visits. This goes beyond the functionality of incognito mode, which is primarily aimed at not recording your browsing history locally on your computer," software engineer Vladislav Bilay told Lifewire via email. "However, it is worth noting that while the Forgetful Browsing feature may prevent websites from remembering your visits, it does not guarantee complete anonymity or protection from other tracking mechanisms such as IP addresses, browser fingerprinting, or network level tracking."

Browsers Practice Sanctioned Stalking

'Trackers' is something of a catch-all term for how sites can follow you as you browse the internet, a kind of virtual version of following you around town, checking where you go, what you buy (or even look at), and so on. These might even be third-party trackers operated by parties other than the owner of the site you visit. For example, when that Amazon ad appears on a website, tempting you with an item you already checked out on another site, that's third-party tracking. 

But there's another kind, predictably called first-party tracking, using tech like cookies. Sites use these cookies to identify recurring visitors. This lets you stay logged in to a website you visit often or keep things in a shopping cart even without logging in. 

Forgetful Browsing can provide an extra layer of privacy by preventing websites from tracking your visits.

But it also lets a newspaper limit the number of articles you can read before you hit a paywall or how an airline will recognize you and raise the prices on those flights you didn't buy last night. 

This is called re-identification, and, as Brave's blog post on Forgetful Browsing puts it, it is only useful to you, the user, on a handful of websites. 

Forgetful Browsing

When you leave a website, Forgetful Browsing automatically logs you out and clears cookies and other data that could reidentify you to that site. But you probably don't want to use it for every site. 

"The downside of using this mode is that it is not possible to stay logged in to any website, as any cookies that are set to keep you logged in will be deleted each time you close the browser. This can be a hassle if you are visiting websites that you frequently use or that require you to be logged in to access certain features," IT consultant Michael Collins told Lifewire via email. 

Instead, you might switch this on as a blanket protection and then punch holes in that blanket (I could probably have picked a better metaphor) for the sites you want to stay logged in to. This might lead to even more cookie-option popups when you visit sites, but there are ways to block those too

A surveillane camera pointed at the screen of a laptop computer.

BrianAJackson / Getty Images

But doesn't your browser already do this? Don't Safari's Private Browsing and Chrome's Incognito mode protect you? Yes and no.

While these modes do delete cookies after you close a private session, they don't go much further. That's because they are designed to keep your own computer from remembering the sites you have visited, and a cookie would be evidence, stored on your computer, that you have visited a site. 

Almost everyone I have asked or seen using Private Browsing thinks it keeps them safer online. While destroying cookies could technically protect your privacy, it can actually make things worse if you think you are more protected than you are and act accordingly. 

The ad-driven web is a nightmare, and we have largely accepted that we must go to absurd lengths to defend ourselves against predatory advertising. Protections like Forgetful Browsing are welcome, but really, this kind of thing shouldn't be allowed in the first place. 

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