We're approaching fully private browsing

For years, researchers have been trying to crack the code of private information retrieval. Now there's a breakthrough - and we may not be too far off the mark.

14-05-2024 - 4 minute read. Posted in: case.

We're approaching fully private browsing

Whether it's large language models, social media or anything else, most of us know that we need to be careful about the information we share. But we should also be careful when it comes to internet searching and browsing. Because what you search on the internet can also reveal a lot about you and your privacy - and potentially be used against you. It can be data about anything from your holiday destination to information about your health when you Google specific symptoms, for example.

So how can we use the internet and public databases without revealing anything about ourselves? It's a question that has long been at the heart of cryptography - and exactly what we're going to dive into in this blog post.

Why incognito and private browsing isn't really private

You've probably heard of incognito mode, which can be useful when you want to hide your search history from others. But while incognito can be helpful, it's not 100% private or anonymous.

Incognito doesn't store information about websites you visit, your search history or cookies on your device. This can be useful if you share your device with others and don't want to share your search history with them. However, your Internet Service Provider and the websites you visit can still see your internet activity and related data even if you use incognito.

This is because we are constantly being tracked when we are on the internet. Data about everything we do online is collected and logged in profiles so that advertising and other online content can target us individually. It happens all the time - and few people are aware of how much data about them has actually been collected and what it is being used for.

For years, cryptographers have been trying to find a solution to this problem and make information and internet searches 100% private and anonymous.

Cryptography and private information retrieval

In the world of cryptography, private information retrieval refers to the specific protocol that enables users to anonymously access and extract information from a database. This has not yet been possible in large databases such as the internet, but that may be starting to change now, Quanta Magazine reports.

Three researchers, Wei-Kai Lin, Ethan Mook, and Daniel Wichs, have designed a new version of the private information retrieval protocol that is considered a breakthrough in cryptography and private information retrieval. This means that we are one step closer to a fully private internet search.

Cracking an old code

The problem with private internet search, which has been attempted solved for years, is basically that the methods for it have been extremely inefficient and didn't work for large databases like the internet.

After countless failed attempts, Lin, Mook and Wichs recently discovered that a single server could preprocess a carefully chosen polynomial - i.e. a particular mathematical function - based on a solution devised by other researchers back in 2011. Their discovery could potentially make information and internet searches 100% anonymous and still efficient - even in large databases like the internet.

But despite the groundbreaking discovery, there is still a lot of work to be done to convert it into 100% private and anonymous internet searching in practice. This is because the process itself is extremely complex, requiring enormous storage space and time.

The future of private browsing

Even though we haven't reached 100% private internet browsing yet, Lin, Mook and Wichs' discoveries are a major breakthrough that may help crack the code to fully private internet searching in the future. Who knows - maybe it's not that far off after all.

In the meantime, if you want to make your internet searches more private, consider using a [VPN][/blog/glossary/vpn "What is a VPN?"]. VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and works by encrypting your internet activity and data such as your IP address, making it invisible to others.

Author Emilie Hartmann

Emilie Hartmann

Emilie Hartmann is a student and copywriter at Moxso, where she is a language nerd and always on the lookout for new and exciting topics to write about. She is currently doing her Master's in English, where she is primarily working in the fields of Creative Writing and Digital Humanities.

View all posts by Emilie Hartmann

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