Incognito mode leaves no trace of your online activity on your browser, but it doesn’t guarantee private browsing or prevent web tracking. Let’s discover what incognito mode means, how it works, and what it can and cannot do.
Incognito mode is a feature of Chrome and other web browsers that allows you to surf the internet without saving your browsing history, cookies, and other site data. When you go incognito, your browser doesn’t record which web pages you visit.
You can use incognito mode on any device that has a browser. While “incognito mode” is the most recognized term, all major browsers offer this private browsing feature. However, each uses a different name for it:
Android and iOS smartphone and tablet users can also take advantage of private browsing. And apart from web browsers, some services offer incognito mode, such as Reddit, YouTube, Google Maps, and Google Play Store.
But incognito mode doesn’t hide your IP address or encrypt your traffic – your ISP or other third parties can still peek at your data. That’s why incognito mode is not as private as most would think.
The way incognito mode works is pretty straightforward. Once you open an incognito window, your browser starts a new private browsing session.
The incognito browsing session ends once you close the incognito tabs or your browser. All the cookies and site data saved during the session are automatically deleted.
If you check your browsing history after, you will not be able to find the list of websites visited. And those websites will not recognize you as a returning visitor because they will lack cookies. (Unless they use different internet trackers to keep tabs on you, of course.)
But you will still find the new bookmarks you’ve added, the files you’ve downloaded, and the pages you’ve added to the reading list.
During private browsing sessions, incognito mode does the following:
While all the mentioned factors make your browsing in incognito mode more private, you also need to keep in mind what incognito mode doesn’t do:
Incognito mode doesn’t hide your IP or encrypt your traffic, but a virtual private network (VPN) does. To keep your internet activity private, use NordVPN.
Your private browsing mode only blocks your browser from recording your traffic. It doesn’t hide your IP and doesn’t encrypt or route your traffic via a remote server the way a VPN does. Your ISP and employer, websites, search engines, governments, and other third-party snoopers can still see and collect your data or track your IP address.
Web browsers are upfront about this too.
Each time you open a new incognito window on Google Chrome, your browser warns you that your activity might still be visible to websites you visit, your employer or school, and your internet service provider.
Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Edge offer similar disclaimers too. Only Apple’s Safari doesn’t bother to inform its users about these limitations.
Moreover, if you log in to Facebook, Amazon, or other site while browsing in private mode, those sites will know about it – the private mode will no longer conceal you. If you sign in to one of Google’s many apps, your account will also start recording your history again, making incognito mode useless.
Check out our brief video on incognito mode below.
There’s no harm in using incognito mode. While it doesn’t protect your privacy as much as many may think (but now you know better), it is safe to use as long as your browser is secure and up to date.
However, incognito mode doesn’t guarantee any more security than the usual browsing mode. If you open fake websites or click on malicious links, you can still fall victim to a cyberattack.
While incognito mode has its limitations, it can be useful in some cases. You should learn how to use incognito mode and use private browsing:
Private browser modes protect you from people tracking your online activity on your computer. They cannot quickly look up your browsing history or login and site data.
Incognito mode allows you to log in to the same platform without logging out on the non-incognito browser tabs. This function comes in handy when your friend wants to use your device to log in to their accounts or you want to separate your personal and work profiles.
Since incognito mode doesn’t store cookies, the airline or hotel website might not know that you checked your chosen dates before. So they cannot hike their prices accordingly, and you may get better deals.
No cookies and site data means no targeted advertising following your family members around and accidentally revealing to them which birthday gift you’ve been researching online.
Incognito mode lets you see the site as an outsider would – checking the cookie disclaimer and all other details a new visitor sees. It also loads the latest version of the website, so you can preview the most recent edits without the cache getting in the way.
Many websites personalize our experience and show us content they know we like. If you watch cat videos on YouTube, every time you open the homepage, it will be filled with adorable kittens. Incognito mode doesn’t know your history, so the website content you see is fresh and not based on your previous activity.
Incognito mode is not an all-in-one solution for browsing privately. It takes a lot more than a browsing mode to achieve privacy online.
Incognito mode doesn’t stop web tracking. Your ISP, your employer, the websites you visit, search engines, the government, and other third-party snoopers can still track your browsing even if you use incognito mode. But they will be unable to tell which websites you visit using incognito mode and which ones are visited via the usual browsing mode.
Someone looking over your shoulder would be able to tell that you’re in incognito mode from the distinct look incognito windows have. They would also know about your incognito sessions if you forgot to close the incognito tabs on your browser before sharing the device.
Someone using the same device could also find your incognito history in the DNS cache, but they wouldn’t be able to check if you visited the websites in incognito mode or without.
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