Tech

The Internet Is For Porn: A Modest Proposal For Immodest Perusal

You look at porn. That’s okay. But you probably don’t want to leave a long, sticky trail of evidence behind. Here’s how not to be an ass when looking at ass.

The Internet is really really great (for porn). I’ve got a fast connection so I don’t have to wait (for porn). There’s always some new site (for porn). I browse all day and night (for porn). It’s like I’m surfing at the speed of light (for porn).

Unlike puppets in a musical, pornography isn’t something that’s usually sung about so much as squirreled away. Ten years ago it was keeping magazines hidden under a bed, five years ago it was keeping files hidden on a hard drive, and now it’s keeping URLs hidden in a browser. Modern porn hiding technology has come a long way from a craftily labeled cardboard box or a cleverly nested computer folder.

Keep It Secret. Keep It Safe.

If Google Chrome is your main web browser then you’re probably familiar with Chrome’s incognito mode. Using an incognito mode for porn is like using condoms when having sex. It’s an easy, one-off, over-the-counter way to protect yourself so that you don’t have to worry about cookies or the browser history.

What is it?

Pages you view in this window won’t appear in your browser history or search history, and they won’t leave other traces, like cookies, on your computer after you close all open incognito windows.

Google originally pitched incognito mode as a way to surreptitiously shop for gifts. Right. Because you don’t want your significant other to find out that you’ve been browsing for hardcore, Asian, crackle-enamel vases.

Yes, if you think Chrome’s incognito mode seems tailor-made for porn, then you wouldn’t be the only one. This Google support thread of people asking for an option to disable incognito mode is akin to people who call for abstinence-only sex education. Not having a private browsing mode won’t keep kids (or anyone else) from looking at porn—it just means they’d be doing it in a less safe way. And for LGBT kids with conservative parents, there can be more at stake than just embarrassment if their porn habits are found out.

Chrome isn’t the only browser to offer this sort of stealth feature. All modern browsers have some sort of privacy mode. Internet Explorer calls theirs InPrivate. Firefox, Opera, and Safari simply call it Private Browsing. Although, importantly, Safari’s is less private than others because it still allows cookies.

But it’s not just the browser that records the sites you go to. Your Google account also tracks what searches you do and websites you click through on and stores them in a web history. Even in incognito mode, your searches and clickthroughs will be stored in your web history if you’re logged in. Your web history can be cleaned up on a by-item basis, the same way your browser history can—you just have to remember to do it, otherwise these searches can turn up in autocompletes anywhere you’re logged in.

Like the morning after pill, this sort of history expunging takes care of the big problem—but stored histories are only the most visible trace of where you’ve been. Cookies, local shared objects (flash cookies), and scripts are even more pernicious at keeping tabs on you.

As Alexis Madrigal recently detailed in a lengthy article for The Atlantic, there are dozens if not hundreds of companies tracking you on the web and almost no way to stop them. While private browsing modes do block cookies there are still malicious scripts, ads, and redirects to worry about.

Even people into exhibitionism would probably be uncomfortable at the long gaze Big Brother has into your bedroom. So what’s the solution? Sandbox it. Set it free. Send it to a farm upstate where it can run around all day in a beautiful meadow with all the other porn.

AKA, make a dedicated porn browser.

There Can Be Only One

If Chrome is your main browser and you want to keep using it for porn, you should download Chrome Canary. Canary was designed to be a side-by-side installation with regular Chrome so web developers could test things in a functionally separate browser. Since Canary is independent that means it keeps its own bookmarks, history, and cookies, making it effectively incognito from anyone who only uses regular Chrome on the same computer.

One of the downsides of Canary-as-porn-browser is that since it was designed to be an experimental browser for developers to bang away on, it can break unexpectedly.

If you don’t like the idea of your porn browser suddenly deciding not to work one day then you should choose a browser that is stable, highly customizable, and, most importantly, one that no one who borrows your computer would ever use voluntarily. I’m of course referring to Opera.

Opera: When You Think Porn, Think Opera
Opera: Choosy Porn Watchers Choose Opera
Opera: The Browser That Really Makes Porn Sing

Those new to Opera will be pleased to see that several of Chrome’s best UI touches were borrowed from Opera. But whichever browser you pick there are a few commonalities.

The first rule of having a dedicated porn browser is you do not tell anyone you have a dedicated porn browser. That means don’t pin it to the OSX dock or the Windows start menu. Your porn habits won’t be incognito for long if people borrowing your computer get curious about what that prominent red O is.

The second rule of having a dedicated porn browser is you do not tell anyone you have a dedicated porn browser. Don’t cross the streams. Save quick Gmail checks for browsers where you don’t mind Google peeking in on your search history.

The third rule of having a dedicated porn browser is keep the browser simple, stupid. Unlike your main web browser, where cookies and such can have their uses, porn sites are much more likely to be malicious so a porn browser should be stripped bare. No cookies, no pop-ups, no ads, no scripts. Opera allows for a lot of control over plug-ins and scripts out of the box but you should still consider installing an extension like NoAds Advanced that offers more fine grained control, especially for Windows users where viruses are a concern.

The upside, of course, is the ability to personalize the browser—from local bookmark storage to remembering passwords to customizing extensions.

While convenient and relatively secure, there are reasons you might not want to use a separate, dedicated porn browser: you’re not the primary user of the computer, you want to keep things as hidden as possible, you don’t have many bookmarks or personalizations, you don’t feel the need to extensively block ads/scripts. Or maybe you just want to keep things simple and not muck about with two browsers.

Coming To The Cloud

We’re going to go back to our friend, the private browsing mode, but also add in some cloud-level personalization. Trying to subsist on a diet consisting solely of Chrome’s incognito mode is bulimic, since you’re constantly binging and purging. Having a web account or two to help discover or store links will give you a more balanced porn diet.

In a recent Gizmodo article, Mat Honan pointed out an as-yet-unlaunched Pinterest for Porn called Sinterest. Though that’s a bit misleading, as all Sinterest purports to be is a bookmarking site rather than a sharing community. If bookmarking a few favorite porn sites is what you’re looking for, both Pinboard and Delicious allow private link storing. While it’s not free like Delicious, Pinboard is probably the better choice because of its great archiving capabilities (for an additional fee) and especially strong terms of service in support of privacy and anonymity.

If you don’t want to porn alone and are looking for the sharing or discovery that would come with a Pinterest for Porn then your best bets are StumbleUpon and Tumblr. Yes, both of these mainstream sites have active porn communities—a fact, unsurprisingly, that neither company advertises. But porn had been discoverable from both sites’ directories until they were reprogrammed not to display it. Like those wanting to disable Chrome incognito, though, obscuring porn on these sites has not deterred people. Tumblr has dozens if not hundreds of erotica sites and StumbleUpon has 143,000 people who stumble pornography, one of several x-rated interests.

Protect yourself: practice safe porn. Out of sight, out of mind, out of browser history.

I’m glad we have this new technology which gives us untold opportunity. From your own desktop you can research, browse and shop until you’ve had enough and you’re ready to stop. For porn.

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