Beyond Black and White: Combining the Benefits of Regular and Incognito Browsing Modes

John Korniotakis, Panagiotis Papadopoulos, Evangelos Markatos

Abstract

As an increasing number of users seem to be concerned about the sophisticated tracking approaches that web sites employ, most modern browsers provide a privacy-preserving browsing mode. This so called “Incognito” mode enables users to browse web sites with sensitive (e.g., medical-, religious-, and substance-abuse-related) content by providing them with a clean-state and disposable browser session. Although incognito-mode browsing is useful, users will eventually need to switch back to regular web browsing as they need to log in to their favorite web sites (e.g., Gmail, Facebook, etc.). However, whenever they want to access another unfamiliar or sensitive web site, they are forced to switch back to Incognito mode, and so on and so forth. Pretty soon, users find themselves switching all the time back and forth between regular and incognito mode. Unfortunately, such a chain of actions, is not only tiresome, but may also turn out to be error-prone as well, since users may accidentally use regular browsing mode to visit web sites they intended to access in incognito mode. To provide users with a convenient and privacy-preserving browsing experience, in this paper we propose GRISEO: a new browsing mode that aims to act as a middle-ground, thus enabling users to get the best of both words: the privacy of incognito mode along with the convenience of the regular browsing mode. Our approach is founded on a whitelist-based solution where users “whitelist” the sites they trust and from which they are willing to receive cookies that will persist even after a single browsing section is over. The rest of the sites are considered black-listed and are allowed to plant only ephemeral cookies: cookies that will be deleted at the end of the browsing session. Our preliminary performance results of our prototype, show that for the average web page access, the rendering time while browsing in GRISEO mode is just 5.9% more than while in Chrome’s Regular Browsing mode. We believe that the overhead of GRISEO is very small and it will be hardly noticeable by most users.

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