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What incognito mode is and why it’s not as private as you think

Oct 04, 2017 · 3 min read

What incognito mode is and why it’s not as private as you think

Many people use their browsers’ private or incognito modes to browse the web privately. However, private browser modes don’t actually make people as private as they think. Before completely trusting your browser, find out what it can and can’t do.

What incognito mode does

Incognito mode was made to help you browse the web without storing browsing data locally so that it can’t be retrieved later. Opening a private or incognito tab in your browser of choice – Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Microsoft Edge or Internet Explorer – ensures that your computer doesn’t remember any of your online activities. This means that your searches, visited pages, login details and cookies will not be saved on the device after you close your private windows. However, any files you download or bookmarks you create will be kept.

Private browser modes protect you from people snooping your online activities on the computer you’re using. It’s a great tool when you share your computer with others or when using a public computer.

These browser modes can also be used for booking flight tickets or hotel rooms because they might get you lower prices. Because you don’t save cookies, the airline or hotel website might not know that you checked your chosen dates before and hike their prices accordingly.

If you want to let a friend check their email or log into Facebook on your computer, open a new private window for them. They will be able to sign into their accounts without signing you out.

How to activate incognito mode

To start browsing in incognito mode, open your browser, select “File” and then choose “New Private Window” or “New Incognito Window” (the name may vary from browser to browser). Here are the shortcuts for different browsers:

Chrome: Control/⌘ + Shift + N
Firefox: Control/⌘ + Shift + P
Internet Explorer: Control + Shift + P
Safari: ⌘ + Shift + N

Once you are done, simply close the window, and that’s it – your local browsing history is gone. You can also make your browser start in private browsing mode by default so that your online activities are never logged locally. To do this, search your browser’s settings tab.

Incognito mode: not as private as you think

Even if the private browsing mode doesn’t record the sites you visit, all of that information can still be tracked with your IP address. Therefore, your browsing data can still be collected by your ISP, your employer, and any other third party that can track your IP address.

Google and Mozilla are completely upfront about this in their browsers. “Going incognito doesn’t hide your browsing from your employer, your Internet service provider or the websites that you visit,” Chrome users are warned each time they open a new incognito window. However, Apple and Microsoft do not bother to inform their users about these limitations.

Also, if you do log into Facebook, Amazon, or anywhere else while browsing in incognito mode, those sites are obviously going to know about it – the private mode will no longer conceal you in those cases. If you sign into one of Google’s multiple apps, Chrome will also start recording your cookies and history again, making the whole incognito thing useless.

How to actually browse privately

There are non-major search engines out there that respect your privacy, like DuckDuckGo. It doesn’t store any personally identifiable information, doesn’t use cookies that can identify you, and discards IP addresses from its server logs. Websites will still know you visited them through your IP address, but DuckDuckGo won’t share your search phrases with them.

Tor is a network that allows users to surf the web anonymously. It routes your traffic through a series of computers before finally connecting you with your intended destination. When your traffic is bounced around at random, it becomes difficult to determine where you originally came from. This may slow down your traffic considerably, but it’s a powerful privacy tool.

Another essential tool for enhancing your privacy is a Virtual Private Network (VPN). It hides your real IP address and replaces it with the IP address of a remote VPN server. This way, any online monitoring based on tracking IP addresses fails. It also encrypts your traffic, protecting your browsing habits from your ISP and other third parties.  NordVPN, for example, uses military-grade encryption and keeps no logs of your online activities.

How do you use the private browsing mode? Do you have any special tricks such as the cheaper flights? Please share in the comments below!


Christina Craig
Christina Craig successVerified author

Christina is a community manager and the heart, the voice and the soul of NordVPN. She is always up for a conversation with our community of users and blog readers.


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