Private browsing doesn’t actually hide your porn habits

Your porn habits aren’t private. In fact, your computer makes it fairly easy to identify you and the X-rated sites you visit.

Your computer has loads of configuration options set to your own unique specifications—you use a certain browser, run a certain version of a certain operating system, and so on. Most websites (especially adult sites) will track and record this information. And your requests for porn don’t go directly to the site itself; your data has a few stops to make first.

It leaves footprints everywhere you go online, Incognito Mode be damned. Here’s how a recent investigation over at Motherboard sums it up:

So, for example, when you click on “Leather Fetish #3” on XNXX, you’re not just sending a request to the porn site—a so-called first-party request. You’re sending third-party requests to Google, to the Web-tracking company AddThis, and to a company called Pornvertising, too, even if you’re browsing in private mode. You’re also sending other data that can be used to identify your computer, like your IP address.

Web developers rely on such data-tracking in order to better affect their shareability. They can identify the most common screen resolution of a visitor to their site, for example, and tailor their content to those dimensions.

Our leaky data is especially unpleasant when you consider hacking. It’s only becoming more and more common to hear about people’s identities being compromised online. If a malicious actor were to gain access to the user data retained by a porn site, that hacker might be in a position to hold someone’s pornographic tastes hostage. This is doubly concerning when you realize that people in many parts of the world regularly face persecution for their sexual preferences.

For now this is very much a problem without a solution.

H/T Motherboard | Screengrab via Department of the Internet: Installation Video

Dylan Love

Dylan Love

Dylan Love is an editorial consultant and journalist whose reporting interests include emergent technology, digital media, and Russian language and culture. He is a former staff writer for the Daily Dot, and his work has been published by Business Insider, International Business Times, Men's Journal, and the Next Web.