First came the internet. Then came the viruses, hacks, fraud, blackmail, extortion, stalking, catfishing, harassment, revenge nudes and data harvests (and the inevitable security breaches). Somewhere in the middle of all that, the web also became a primary tool for masturbating, dating, pirating entertainment and the sale of drugs or sex — not to mention a network for extremist hate. It was, we quickly realized, an ideal place for certain exceedingly private activities that also happen to rely on an absurd and risky degree of connectivity.
In other words, your secret vices and hobbies and beliefs were, by definition, public.
Which is why, beginning with Apple’s Safari in the mid-aughts, we put so much faith in private browsing features. At the very moment we realized how vulnerable our online activity made us to either malicious strangers, law enforcement or just a parent or partner seeing our smutty search history — you can only blame your little brother so many times! — we were gifted the option of hiding our shame. Google Chrome’s “incognito” mode, which debuted in 2008, appeared to cement the idea that our movements through cyberspace were untraceable. Hell, it even shows you a logo of a black-hatted private eye. Below that, however, we find a few very important caveats.
Yes, your private browsing activities are still visible to your employer if you’re surfing on a work device. Same goes for school. And it turns out that monitoring on the actual websites you visit is the biggest problem of all, at least in the great wide world of streaming sex. Researchers from Microsoft, Carnegie Mellon and University of Pennsylvania just delved into more than 22,000 porn sites to show that 93 percent of them leak data to third parties, including tech giants like Facebook, which may then go on to sell it. In fact, Google itself has trackers on 74 percent of the web’s top porn destinations, meaning that its own private browsing feature is largely useless against the company’s collection of your favorite cumshots.
The first hypothetical in the study pertains to a porn consumer, fittingly named “Jack,” who “does not know that incognito mode only ensures his browsing history is not stored on his computer.” As a result, he’s exposed to third parties that “may even infer Jack’s sexual interests from the URLs of the sites he accesses” or “use what they have decided about these interests for marketing or building a consumer profile.”
Can you imagine? Betrayed by the little guy in the fedora and glasses!
Microsoft’s interest in these security loopholes isn’t purely altruistic, of course; they’re looking to unseat Google Chrome by offering a new version of their current browser, Edge, that promises enhanced privacy.
But for me, the battle to keep secrets is over. I’ve already had my Social Security number stolen; I’m also one of the 147 million people whose financial information was leaked in the mammoth Equifax breach. And I damn sure don’t bother using incognito mode when I’m jerking off. What’s the point? The masters of the universe already know everything about me, including that I check out videos of big-breasted women giving blowjobs now and then.
Most sites have a social media sharing button on those clips, for god’s sake; maybe I ought to be curating a list of recommendations to send out in a weekly newsletter. The great irony of private browsing when you’re horny? It just makes it harder to find that one super-hot video you remembered from last week. Better to have the digital receipts to retrace your steps later on.
What’s Google gonna do with all that data? Whatever they want, I guess. But it’s sort of nice to have an answer to the question of the hidden price we’re paying for all this free filth, plus entry to countless toxic or embarrassing communities. Given my reporting on everyone from incels and white supremacists to Joker cosplayers and women who talk shit about engagement rings, Silicon Valley servers are probably getting quite a portrait of yours truly, and I hope they use it to serve me more of the depraved content I require.
In any event, I’ve stopped pretending there’s any such thing as adequate protection when logging on. Welcome to an era of raw-dogging the internet, bro. May as well share your mom’s maiden name with anyone who asks and tweet your address to see if anyone nearby wants to come hang out. It may not be “safe,” but it’s liberating.
But if you truly can’t stand having your personal business on display to unsympathetic corporate interests?
Maybe the 21st century isn’t for you. Smash that laptop and flee into the woods.