How a Browser Burner Hides My Most Embarrassing Internet Searches
Some insane things I’ve been looking up on my phone recently: “how tall is Robert Pattinson”, “Bob Dylan with a mustache”, and “Rogue Legacy 2 double jump”. All things that are slightly embarrassing, only momentarily helpful, and definitely not a fair representation of who I am as a person. This is one of the reasons why I tend to use a “burner browser”, a browser that doesn’t save any history and is disconnected from my accounts.
I’ve been using this dual-browser setup for years so every random search for products, questions, or health doesn’t follow me for days or weeks. I still use a standard browser for work, where I want history, saved logins, and other tracking-based conveniences. But by using a browser burner, I separate the dumbest part of my brain (the part that mostly searches for nonsensical trivia that I’ll immediately forget about) from the useful part of my brain (the part that must have written this article) .
To be clear, a burner browser doesn’t entirely prevent companies from tracking all the stupid things you search for on your phone throughout the day. Regardless of your browser, your phone releases all sorts of identifying signals, such as your IP address, to potentially link your clicks on search results for “Weird Al biopic” with a search for “what is the Roku channel”. But using a privacy-preserving, history-destroying browser for your messiest or most sensitive searches creates obstacles, if not barriers, for tracking companies.
I use the Firefox Focus app for this purpose because it’s (mostly) private with little configuration: it blocks ads and trackers by default, it doesn’t support tabs, and it lets you delete history one-click navigation. I just wish Google wasn’t the default search engine. That’s the only thing you need to change, and here’s how:
- Tap the three-line icon, then tap Settings > Search engine.
- Select DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn’t save searches, link it to an account, or sell your data to advertisers.
If you don’t like Firefox Focus for some reason, DuckDuckGo has an app that also works well as a burn browser.
As for my desktop, I tend to use the Tor Browser, even though it’s slow. You can configure another browser, such as Firefox, Edge, or Safari, to use more privacy-focused search engines, avoid saving history, and not save cookies or anything else using its private browsing mode. But they usually don’t block trackers or open a private window by default. Google’s Chrome browser still manages to send all kinds of data to Google, even in incognito mode. You can choose to block ads and trackers all the time, but most people probably want to retain their browsing history and stay logged in to at least a handful of websites, so it’s hard to suggest taking all approaches. privacy protections that are available. regardless of the browser you use daily.
None of the above is good enough for true anonymity, but it should give you some privacy, and at the very least you won’t have the embarrassment of auto-filling when someone takes a swipe. eye over your shoulder as you search for something unrelated and asks, “Earwax removal kits, huh?”
Privacy Tip: Delete Google Search Results
Google has introduced a way to request removal of search results that contain personal information about you. Wired has the details on how this removal request works, although the process can be tedious if there are a lot of results. If Google approves your request and removes the results, that doesn’t remove the source of the information, but getting that information from the most popular search engine will certainly make the search more difficult.
If you have already searched your name on Google and found your address on sites like Spokeo or Intelius, you can directly request its removal. For DIYers, journalist Yael Grauer has links to opt-out forms for worst offenders. If you can afford to pay for a service to handle this process for you, our staff members have used both DeleteMe and Kanary with good results, although we have not tested the services comparatively as it is almost impossible to do.
Other privacy news we are monitoring
🕵️ Privacy concerns regarding the potential cancellation of Roe vs. Wade
The publication of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion on Roe vs. Wade became a nationwide flashpoint, creating widespread concern and confusion. The knots of privacy have been difficult to untangle. To start, TechCrunch clarifies a number of potential privacy issues regarding vintage apps. Mother Jones has a detailed explainer covering the variety of digital privacy and security issues that could arise in a post-deer world, and Wired explains the legal pretzel big tech companies can face. Gizmodo has put together a guide to digital safety if you live in a state that might ban abortion, and the Digital Defense Fund has other tips for keeping an abortion safe and private.
📱 Google announces new privacy and security features on its devices
The most flashy part of Google’s I/O conference was the announcement of new products, including new Pixel phones, a Pixel watch and a Pixel tablet, but Wired details some interesting privacy and security improvements at coming in Android 13. Among them are some user-facing changes, including tweaks to how device permissions are handled, as well as new data security labels in the Google Play store. But the OS overhaul also offers behind-the-scenes improvements like SDK transparency and a better pipeline for security updates. Google also announced its own virtual credit card system, which hides your real credit card number for online purchases, similar to the service offered by Privacy.
🔑 Big tech is getting closer to giving up passwords
In an unlikely alliance, Microsoft, Google and Apple have agreed on a standard to advance passwordless login standards. This move would essentially replace user IDs and passwords with your phone for identification, similar to the concept of using physical security keys.
This article was edited by Mark Smirniotis.