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Does Incognito Mode Work (and How Private Is It)?

Anyone who is concerned about online privacy may be wondering if incognito or private mode is a solution. People have both legitimate and not-so-legitimate reasons for wanting to keep their browser history private. You may simply want to keep certain web searches secret, for example, as well as reduce companies’ ability to track you online or block third-party cookies.

Does the incognito feature help to give you more privacy online? The simple answer is “yes,” in general. A private browsing session can help in some ways, but there are some important qualifications. This guide will help you to understand what incognito is and what you can and cannot accomplish by private browsing.

What is Incognito?

Incognito is a setting you can use with almost any browser. Google Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Opera, and Safari all offer users an incognito window or private browsing mode that keeps your browsing private. Internet Explorer, the old Microsoft browser that Edge replaced, also supports incognito. Browsers may indicate this mode with a message or icon. Google Chrome portrays an icon of a spy with a hat and dark glasses, for example. Consult the Google Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft, and other browser help center tabs for more information.

How to Activate Incognito Mode

You can go incognito on any internet-connected device, whether a phone, tablet, or computer. The exact steps you take to activate this function differ slightly depending on the browser and what type of device you’re using, but here are a few general tips:

  • On Firefox, click on the browsing menu and choose New Private Window.
  • On Chrome, there’s a New Incognito window tab.
  • On Safari, click on File menu and select New Private Window.

Make sure you search under the new tab for privacy. You can also use a keyboard shortcut to open a new incognito window, but may need to search your computer’s help content to find the exact key sequence.

Guy keeping a secret

What Does Incognito Actually Do?

The idea of using private browsing incognito with Edge, Firefox, Safari, or any browser window to peruse the websites you visit may sound great, but what does it actually accomplish? Here’s a summary of what incognito mode does.

  • Your browsing history is forgotten.

As soon as you close a window opened in incognito mode, the session, including cookies, are erased from the browser’s memory. This includes browser cookies that may have been activated on websites you’ve visited. 

  • Automatic logins won’t work.

Since your browsing activity is removed, users have to sign in every time they revisit sites such as Google or Facebook.

  • It makes it possible to log in using multiple accounts at once.

A common reason to do this is if you have both a work and personal account and want to have them both open on a site at the same time.

  • It changes your search term suggestions.

Using incognito mode means you avoid having unwanted suggested search terms come up the next time you (or someone else) does a search engine query on that browser.

There are good reasons to use incognito mode to make your browsing experience more private. At the same time, it’s best to have a realistic view of what this private browser mode actually protects.

5 FAQs on Incognito Mode

Here are some questions you may have regarding incognito mode, including what the tab is actually designed to do.

1. Is your browser activity completely private?

Not quite. Even when using an incognito tab, you can still be tracked by your IP address. Anyone with access to your IP address, such as your internet service provider, government agencies, or your employer (depending on the conditions of your employment) can still potentially track your web browsing history.

2. Does incognito protect you against viruses and malware?

No. Incognito tabs can’t protect you against viruses, malware, or phishing attacks. Harmful data can still be downloaded to your computer, phone, or tablet if you aren’t vigilant or don’t have the proper safeguards in place. Check your privacy settings on Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, or any browser window, or visit the help center to see more information on improving security.

3. Will it let me avoid all those annoying retargeted ads?

Not necessarily. You’re not invisible to websites while your browsing sessions are active. Private mode means the session is erased when you’re finished, but you can still be tracked while you’re on Facebook, Amazon, or any other site. Thus, you may still see retargeted ads that reflect your web browser activity.

4. What are the best times to use incognito mode?

There are certain situations when it can be helpful to open a new tab and go incognito.

  • Use incognito tabs when you’re searching for information that’s sensitive, such as a site for a medical condition and you don’t want this coming up on a computer that you share with others.
  • It’s a good idea to use incognito when you’re using a public computer and you don’t want your browser data to be saved.
  • You may want to use it when checking out prices for goods and services that change frequently, such as hotels and airfares.

The last one is important because companies tracking your cookies may raise prices if they think you’re likely to buy from them. Incognito tabs prevent this.

5. What is the biggest downside to browsing in private mode?

The only real drawback to this type of browsing is that it can give you a false sense of security. You have to remember that opening an incognito tab won’t protect you from anything you download, access through email, or when it comes to anyone tracking you by your IP address. Another point to remember is that you need to be conscious of when you open and close incognito mode, as forgetting to use it when you need to could result in others seeing your search history on public computers.

Alternative Ways to Improve Privacy and Security

Incognito browsing can be a useful way to safeguard your privacy. There are quite a few additional actions, tools, and services that can help you fill the gaps when it comes to protecting privacy and security when you’re online. In addition to private browsing, consider these general points:

  • Take precautions to safeguard your computer from viruses and malware.
  • Use updated virus protection software that scans your computer and removes unwanted items.
  • Be careful about every file you download.
  • Understand the risks of public computers and public Wi-Fi. 
  • Don’t share sensitive information or conduct financial transactions from public computers or when using public Wi-Fi.
  • Be wary of phishing scams.
  • Never download files from unknown sources.
  • Even when you’re browsing in private mode, your computer can be damaged by harmful data.
  • Most browsers, such as Google Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari typically collect data.
  • When you browse, consider using an alternative such as DuckDuckGo, which never collects data.

For a greater degree of privacy, consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that masks your location and IP address.

The Benefits and Limitations of Incognito Mode

Private browsing can help you enjoy a greater degree of privacy as long as you don’t see it as a comprehensive solution for all your security concerns. It’s a simple way to erase your web browsing session without having to download any apps or extensions. There’s no real downside to private browsing incognito long as you understand that it only protects you from certain threats.

One way to keep all of your information as secure as possible is to permanently shred digital files you no longer need to avoid the risk of them falling into bad actors’ hands. Contact Shred Cube today to speak with an expert about any incognito mode questions you might have, or to learn more about how a digital file shredder can keep your data safe.

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