Calm down, folks, it’s not as scandalous as it seems. But today’s topic is something that you might not have thought about before, and it’s something you should be aware of. As a disclaimer, I’m not saying you have to conduct your research on private browsers. If you’ve been around the blog very often you know that I’m not a huge fan of telling you that you have to do anything. Eat your cereal with orange juice instead of milk. Wear blue eye shadow. Date that dude online whose profile states that he’s an “entrepreneur” and has no photos. Leave the house without pants. You can do anything you want to do. Don’t let me inhibit your freedom and feeling of entitlement. Sure, you can do your research on a regular old browser. But, similar to some of these other allotments, it might not be the best idea.
What’s a Private Browser?
Right. Good question. Before we go on, let’s talk briefly about what I mean by a private browser. If the term “Tor Browser” means anything to you, it’s safe to say you can skip this. If you’re under the impression we’ll be discussing the brother of a deified superhero, keep reading.
A private browser, or the private function on your regular browser, allows you to search the web without leaving any traces behind. In a sense, you’re kind of like a ninja. But, more appropriately, it’s kind of like being able to steal from the cookie jar without leaving any crumbs. Why a cookie jar? Because when you visit websites you leave behind a virtual trail of crumbs, literally called cookies (yes that’s the technical term), that keeps track of where you’ve been.
Ever wonder how one moment you’re searching for a new sofa, and the next minute you’re on Facebook and “randomly” get a seemingly prophetic advertisement thrown in your face for the local furniture store? Yeah, it wasn’t random. Those cookies allow companies and sites to advertise to you later if you don’t complete a purchase on their site. I know, those sneaky bastards!
That Sucks, But What’s It Got to Do With Freelancing?
Well, young grasshopper, listen here. There’s a way to search the web without leaving these crumbs behind. Indeed, you can browse the web like a shadow in the night. I mean, your internet service provider (ISP) – like Verizon or whoever – still knows where you’re going, so…you know…keep that in mind. However, you don’t accumulate a search history, your pages aren’t saved unless you bookmark them, and the sites you go to don’t track you.
I know, I know, what’s the point, right? Well, there are some things I’ve had to research in the past that have warranted some, ehm, interesting advertisements later on. But it’s not just about advertisements. Oh, no. Some of these sites have ways of getting your phone number and email address without you ever entering them. (I know. Sneaky bastards.)
I feel like I’m losing some of you, so if you’re currently staring at the screen like a floating goldfish, prepare to be revived.
One time I had to do a ton (I mean an inhuman amount) of research for a book on bankruptcy. Now, I’ve been broke, but I’ve never filed for bankruptcy, and I’m not an attorney. Therefore, it meant I had to do a crapload of research.
Over time, I started getting emails about debt counseling, bankruptcy alternatives, and ways to save my business from seizure. (What, now?) I brushed it off and continued my research, which had delved into the area of the things you can and can’t lose if you file for Chapter 7. (Don’t worry about it – long and boring.)
Soon, I started getting phone calls. And not just on my cell phone. At home. As in my parents’ home. Needless to say, it was an awkward conversation for awhile until I had to explain that, no, I wasn’t going into bankruptcy, I really was okay, the bridge was not going to be my future home, and my car was totally not getting repossessed.
The CSI Rule
I have a rule that I like to call the CSI rule. If I was on an episode of CSI, and my dearest friend was murdered, and I was the last person to see her alive, is there anything in my search history that would make them suspect me? Well, if familial humiliation and obnoxious advertisements aren’t enough to make you search privately, this one sure as heck should.
Clearly, you’re probably not going to end up in a situation like that. However, it’s something to consider. Crazy things happen in the world all the time, and the last thing I want an investigator (or employer or whoever else) thinking about me is that I’m broke and desperate and looking into bankruptcy. Or looking for a private investigator. Or doing any number of things that some of my research would lead someone to think I’m doing.
How Do I Search in This Magical Way?
If you’re using Firefox, simply right-click on the Firefox logo and hit “New Private Window”. Currently, it’s got a cute purple masquerade mask for an icon. On Chrome, it’s called “Incognito” and it will say “Open an Incognito Window”. It’s got a cool spy-looking dude. As for other browsers, I don’t use them, so I don’t know how to get a private window open, but the process is usually the same.
Another option is to download the Tor Browser, sometimes called the Onion Browser. This is a completely separate browser that doesn’t track anything you do. You’re essentially anonymous to the web, and you can search for whatever you want.
Applications to Fiction
If you write fiction, this feature becomes particularly useful. Why? You’d be surprised how many weird, disturbing, or taboo things I’ve had to look up when writing fiction. How much does a human head weigh? What are some of the tactics of serial killers? Of the serial killers who haven’t been caught, how did they get away with it? Lots of odd things you probably don’t want in your search history. Particularly if you write thrillers or murder mysteries.
In summary, I think the best thing you can do for your sanity and future self is to use a private browsing method to do your research. Doing so not only helps you avoid annoying advertisements and questionable looks from people, but it also helps you maintain the anonymity of your clients. Sometimes you have to research things that your clients might ask you not to divulge, so it’s always good to have that extra layer of protection.
Have you ever received odd advertisements or questionable looks for something you had to research? Let us know in the comments.