private Browsing

Browsing Incognito: Understanding Private Browsing

You’re planning a surprise party for your bestie’s 30th birthday. You don’t want them to catch a glimpse of the guest list or Venmo payment for their favourite band. Or perhaps you’re buying an engagement ring and want to keep it on the down low. Going incognito could help you cover your tracks online.

Private browsing prevents your browser from saving your activity history. That means you can search and surf more discretely. But incognito mode isn’t as low-key as it sounds. Here’s what you need to know about browsing on the hush-hush.


What Incognito Mode Does (And Doesn’t Do)

Incognito or private browsing prevents your browser from keeping a record of your activity. That means:

No history. Your browser won’t log the sites you visit. When you browse in incognito mode, your browser doesn’t record any of the pages or sites you visit. They won’t show up in your history at all, keeping your activity completely private.

No cookies. Cookies from the sites you visit during that session won’t be stored. Any cookies that a site wants to set during your private browsing session aren’t saved or stored by your browser. They are wiped out after you close the incognito window.

No cached files. Your browser won’t hang onto temporary files, like images, from the sites you viewed. As you surf the web, your browser caches files like images and videos to load pages faster. Incognito prevents caching these files locally so they aren’t left behind on your computer.

No autofill. Your browser won’t suggest saved passwords or personalized info when you sign into sites. Browsers like to helpfully autofill login forms and passwords for sites you’ve visited before. Not so during private browsing – you’ll have to manually enter details to avoid leaving a trail.

However, incognito browsing doesn’t make you completely anonymous online. Your employer, school, or internet service provider may still be able to see your activity. Though your browsing history and cookies aren’t stored locally, your internet provider can still log and record the sites you access unless you use a VPN. 

When To Use Incognito Browsing

The incognito mode comes in handy when you want to keep your browsing on the down low. Here are some examples:

Planning Surprises

Use incognito browsing to search for gifts, plan trips, or make reservations without anyone snooping on your search history. Your activity won’t be visible after you close the incognito window. Incognito mode is perfect for when you need privacy to plan special events like proposals, anniversaries, or birthdays. Your partner won’t be tipped off by your browser history.

Shopping Around  

Compare prices for flights, hotels, or products without pesky cookies tracking you across sites. Incognito prevents sites from linking your browsing behaviour back to you via cookies. It allows you to shop around freely without retailers boosting prices based on your shopping patterns. You can compare prices across multiple travel sites to find the best deals without branding you as a serial searcher. 

Accessing Embarrassing Content

Let’s be real, we all have our guilty internet pleasures. Incognito helps keep your affinity for reality TV or celebrity gossip articles private. We all need to satisfy our guilty pleasures online sometimes. With incognito mode, your secret obsession with trashy tabloids or questionable YouTube content is safe from being discovered during browser history checks.

Public Computers

Don’t want the next person using a library or internet cafe computer to see what you were up to? Open an incognito window so your activity isn’t stored. Incognito mode is essential when browsing on public or shared computers. You don’t want your browsing history, cookies, temporary files, or autofill data available to strangers after you log off.

Sensitive Logins

If you access sensitive accounts like medical records, banking, or email on a shared device, do so in an incognito window. That prevents your login credentials from being cached or stored on that computer. Incognito mode provides an extra layer of protection when using devices that aren’t your own.

How To Open An Incognito Window

Opening a private browsing window is simple across major browsers. Look for “New Incognito Window” on Chrome or “New Private Window” on Firefox and Safari. 

On Chrome for desktop:

– Click the 3-dot menu > New Incognito Window

Or use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + N. This keyboard shortcut makes it fast and easy to open a new incognito browsing window in Google Chrome on your laptop or desktop. 

On Firefox:

– Click the 3-line menu > New Private Window

Or use Ctrl + Shift + P. Similar to Chrome, Firefox has a handy keyboard shortcut to open a private window quickly.

On Safari: 

– Click File > New Private Window 

Or use Shift + Command + N. Safari has a slightly different shortcut using the Command key instead of Ctrl, but still launches new private windows instantly.

On Chrome for Android:

– Tap the 3-dot menu > New Incognito Tab. On mobile Chrome for Android devices, you can fire up new incognito tabs quickly this way.

On iPhone:

– Open Chrome > Tap 3-dot menu > New Incognito Tab. Likewise on iPhones, use Chrome’s menu to start a private tab.

On Microsoft Edge:

– Click the 3-dot menu > New InPrivate Tab. Edge works similarly to other browsers to open new private tabs.

Incognito Mode On Various Browsers 

Not all private browsing modes are created equal. Features vary slightly depending on your browser.

Chrome

As the most popular browser, Chrome offers robust incognito options. Open new incognito windows or tabs as needed. Close to exit. Chrome is the most fully featured when it comes to incognito browsing. You get the flexibility to open entire private windows or individual incognito tabs.

Firefox  

Firefox also opens new private windows. One advantage is you can open a regular and private window simultaneously to drag and drop tabs between them. Like Chrome, Firefox enables private windows for discreet browsing. A bonus is the ability to transfer tabs between normal and private windows.

Safari

Safari limits you to one private window. Open new tabs inside of it. You’ll need to fully close the window when done browsing privately. Safari has the most limitations when browsing privately. You only get a single private window with tabs inside – so closing the window wipes your entire incognito session.

Internet Explorer

IE’s InPrivate browsing is buried in the settings. But the mode otherwise works like Chrome’s incognito with separate InPrivate windows. Internet Explorer was an early adopter of private browsing with InPrivate mode. The feature works similarly to Chrome and Firefox but lives under IE’s settings.

Edge 

Microsoft Edge is still playing catch-up with limited incognito features. You can open InPrivate tabs but not windows. Edge is the newest major browser. Its InPrivate mode is currently barebones compared to other browsers.

Brave

Brave offers robust privacy protection beyond incognito. Enable Tor Windows and HTTPS Everywhere to encrypt connections. Brave goes beyond basic private browsing with built-in ad blocking, Tor connectivity, and HTTPS protections.

Safari (iOS)

Private browsing works the same on mobile Safari as on desktop. Limitations include one window with tabs. Safari’s iOS app mirrors the Mac version’s simplistic incognito mode with one private window and tabs.

Chrome (Android)

Chrome for Android looks and functions much like its desktop counterpart. Enjoy flexible private windows and tab options. Chrome on Android offers the same seamless incognito browsing as on the desktop, just tailored for mobile interfaces.

While incognito browsing isn’t bulletproof privacy, it does provide more discreet surfing. Use private mode to keep your activity confidential in sensitive situations. Close incognito windows when done to wipe your tracks clean. Incognito mode is a handy tool that serves specific purposes, even if it isn’t an invisibility cloak online. Take advantage of private browsing features for circumstances like shopping privately, blocking account trackers, and keeping your browsing history secret on shared devices. But be aware of its limitations versus full encryption solutions.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is incognito browsing completely private?

While incognito prevents your device from recording your activity, it doesn’t make you anonymous online. Your internet provider can still see and record the pages you visit. The incognito mode only hides your browsing locally on your device. It prevents your personal computer or phone from keeping history, cookies, cache files, and other activity. However, your internet service provider can still log the sites you visit by monitoring network traffic. For full anonymity, you’d need to connect via VPN or Tor browser.

Can websites detect incognito browsing?

Most sites can’t tell if you’re in private browsing mode. However, some sites like Quora and Medium may limit access when incognito to encourage user logins. The vast majority of sites have no way to detect if you’re browsing incognito or not. They see the same incoming requests whether you’re in private mode or not. However, a small number of sites can check for the absence of cookies or other factors to try and detect private browsing. In rare cases, they may change what you see or limit access.

Can Chrome extensions see your incognito activity?

Generally no, but beware of malicious extensions. Stick to downloads from the Chrome Web Store. Make sure extensions are disabled in incognito if you want full privacy. For the most part, Chrome extensions can’t monitor or record your activity in incognito windows. This prevents them from undermining private sessions. However malicious extensions could potentially work around protections. Only install trusted extensions, and disable ones you don’t want active during incognito browsing for full protection.

Is incognito browsing secure?

Incognito doesn’t make your connection more secure. You don’t get extra encryption or VPN protections. Make sure to still access sensitive accounts only on HTTPS sites when browsing privately. Incognito mode isn’t designed to make your web browsing more secure overall. It keeps local activity private but doesn’t encrypt traffic or shield you from prying eyes on the network. When accessing sensitive accounts like banking or email privately, still stick to HTTPS sites to keep connections secure. An added layer of protection like a VPN would fully anonymize your browsing activity.

Is private browsing bad for your computer?

Nope! Incognito aligns with how browsers normally manage memory. The only difference is the data isn’t persisted onto your hard drive. There’s no increased memory load when browsing privately. Despite the name, incognito or private browsing modes don’t tax your computer resources or burden memory any differently than normal browsing. Browsers already keep activity lightweight by storing history, cookies, and cache temporarily in RAM. The only change incognito makes is preventing that data from being written to permanent disk storage when the session ends.

Can I recover an incognito session?

Once you close an incognito window, that history and cookies are gone. Reopening incognito won’t surface your past activity. Copy the info into a regular window if you want to save it. By design, incognito mode leaves no trace once you close the window or tab. There is no way to recover or re-access a past private browsing session if you forgot to copy or save something. Next time, drag tabs of interest into a regular window if you want to preserve content from private browsing.

Is there a way to always enable incognito?

Some browsers offer an “always incognito” mode. This keeps all windows private by default without manual toggling. Enable the setting with caution – it may break some sites and services. For those who regularly need incognito, Chrome, Edge, Brave, and Vivaldi have options to remain in permanent private browsing. This disables history and data collection at all times. It requires logging in again to sites and may cause issues with saved data. Use with care.

What are the limits of private browsing?

Incognito only hides your local activity history. It doesn’t encrypt browsing or shield you from network tracking. For full discretion, use a VPN or Tor Browser along with private windows. Keep in mind incognito’s limitations. While it prevents your own devices from retaining private browsing history and data, it does not fully anonymize you online. Your network traffic remains visible to your ISP and the sites you visit. Combining a VPN or Tor with private browsing provides the highest level of privacy.


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