automatically protecting people with private browsing

A friend of mine recently suggested people donate to the Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service, whose website provides a quick escape button (like a boss button) for victims of abuse to get away from the site quickly. Unfortunately the button simply takes you to Google (via an image map, I wonder why?). It doesn’t manipulate your history.

For people in abusive relationships, leaving behind browser history saying they were accessing a site to get help could be dangerous (this is why there’s a quick escape button in the first place).

HTML5 includes a History API, which will let you manipulate the most recent entry, and you could just screw up all the site history, that would be annoying for other people. It seems like the correct answer here is private browsing or incognito mode. While the warning page could include instructions on how to activate incognito mode for your browser (and offer to screw up the history) one wonders why HTML5 doesn’t include a method to load a site private/incognito so websites could offer to stay out of your browser history? I’m sure it would prove very popular with porn sites, but it might also help to protect some people.

Author: Danielle

Danielle is an Australian software engineer, computer scientist and feminist. She doesn't really work on GNOME any more (sadly). Opinions and writing are solely her own and so not represent her employer, the GNOME Foundation, or anyone else but herself.

5 thoughts on “automatically protecting people with private browsing”

  1. Well, this would be solved very easily if we had a browser that made use of new infrastructure such as Zeitgeist instead of providing its own history. Right now, Firefox feels out of place in Ubuntu, I’m very sorry to say. I love the browser, but I think we need something that integrates better. Passwords is another example. Why are they stored in the browser instead of a keyring?

  2. Protecting yourself from the system administrator is an interesting question. Most Linux distributions assume a corporate system administrator (the computer being the company’s property, so the admin has every right (legally, perhaps not morally) to restrict and monitor employee use of the computer) or a well meaning and responsible member of the family at home.

    At what point should software distributors (either developers of individual applications like Mozilla or holistic distributions like Ubuntu) step in to ensure privacy of the user vs. owner of the hardware? You don’t have to go much further than a private browsing mode before you start getting into DRM and locked down computing (ironically to preserve privacy, rather than breach it).

    In my head I’m imagining something called a ‘privacy box’ – a self contained computer, locked down as much as possible (in a similar way that Apple or another company might with their products) but designed to keep the behaviour and activity of the user of the box secret from everyone else, including the owner of the box. They could be physically sealed in such a way that it is obvious if they have been tampered with or opened up. They could be installed in libraries, or hospitals, or other public places where people who are vulnerable (or simply want some privacy) can access the internet with peace of mind.

    Is this possible from a technological point of view? Is it ethical? Is it useful? 😛

  3. This is a really good point. I was looking at this earlier, and I’d like to have something like this in place on a site I’m creating as well. Thanks for the tip!

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Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Australia
This work by Danielle Madeley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 Australia.