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What is incognito mode, and why it isn’t as private as you may think

Oct 04, 2017 · 3 min read

What is incognito mode, and why it isn’t as private as you may think

When it comes to browsing the web privately, everyone has their favorite methods. For a lot of people, that means using the private, or incognito, mode of their browser. However, although it has plenty of legitimate uses, the incognito mode does not actually make people’s browsing habits as private as they think. So before completely trusting the private browsing mode, it’s important to know what is it actually for.

What incognito mode does

The main purpose of the incognito mode is to help you browse the web without storing your local data 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 all of your private windows. However, any files you download or bookmarks you create will be kept.

The incognito mode protects you from other people snooping at your online activities, which is especially useful if you share the same computer with another person or use a public computer to access your accounts. If your history is not saved, nobody can see it, right?

The private mode is also widely used for booking flight tickets or hotel rooms, because it may turn out cheaper. As no cookies are saved, the airline or hotel website will not be able to see if you have checked these particular dates before and hike the price accordingly.

Also, if you allow a friend to 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 the incognito mode?

To start browsing in the incognito mode, open your browser, select “File” and then choose “New Private Window” or “New Incognito Window” (the definition may vary in different browsers). To do it faster, simply use these shortcuts:

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 browsing history is gone. You can also make your browser start in the private browsing mode by default so that your online activities are never logged. To enable or disable the incognito mode, go to your browser’s preferences.

Incognito mode: not as private as you think

Even if the private browsing mode does not keep a record of 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 third party that can track your IP address.

Google and Mozilla are completely upfront about it 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 not conceal you in this case. 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 can you browse truly privately

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

Tor, previously known as The Onion Router, 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. This way, your traffic is bounced around at random, and it is difficult to determine where the original traffic came from.

Another essential tool for enhancing one’s 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, protecting your browsing habits from your ISP and other third parties. NordVPN also secures your internet traffic with 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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