Can internet activity be tracked if you’re in “private” mode?

On Behalf of | Jun 25, 2024 | Criminal Defense |

A lot of people think that using “private” mode or (or “incognito” mode, depending on your browser) hides their internet activity and will keep the police from finding out where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing – but this simply isn’t true.

Private mode prevents your browser from storing the history of your internet searches and movements from site to site. It also deletes any “cookies” sites may normally add to your devices, along with site data once the browser is closed. 

That’s effective at keeping your spouse or your boss, for example, from easily checking into what you’ve been doing online – but it won’t keep police investigators from tracing your moves.

What private mode doesn’t do

Private mode on a browser doesn’t do as much as you may think. Here are the realities:

  • Your internet service provider (ISP) can still see your online activity, even in incognito mode
  • Network administrators at your workplace can also monitor your activities (and it is legal to do so)
  • Websites can still track your activities using your internet protocol (IP) address
  • Websites can use other tracking mechanisms, like tracking pixels, that are not always blocked by private mode in browsers
  • Third-party services, like advertisers, can still track your activity during private sessions

All of this activity can also be traced by law enforcement officers, who can use informal requests and warrants alike to get logs from ISPs, web services and others. Even so-called anonymous browsing tools like Tor, which routes your internet traffic through multiple servers and nodes to make it difficult to trace, are not completely impenetrable. 

If you are under investigation for a white collar crime and you have concerns about what your internet activity may reveal, make sure that you get careful legal guidance that is specific to your case. You do not want to let your defense be surprised by the information down the line.


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