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What is incognito mode, and what is private browsing? In this overview, we explore what incognito mode does and does not do, how to browse privately, and how using a secure browser protects your online privacy more comprehensively than private mode.

First, what is incognito mode?

Incognito mode is a setting on your web browser that allows you to go undercover when browsing the internet. Incognito mode works by removing local data from your web browsing sessions. This means that no browsing is recorded in your local search history; any cookies which a website attempts to upload to your computer are deleted or blocked. Other trackers, temporary files, and third-party toolbars are also disabled.

What does incognito mode do?

When you don’t use incognito mode, web browsers store the URL of every web page you visit and retain the information even after your browsing session. This enables easy access to the same pages later. The browser will also store cookies, which are small text files that save site login details, collect information about the pages you visit, and create customized web pages and ads based on your online behavior.

However, when you use incognito mode:

  • Your browsing history will be private – because it won’t be recorded.
  • Cookies will be deleted, helping to keep your personal preferences private.
  • You can sign in to multiple accounts simultaneously. For example, you could log into a work-related account in an incognito window while remaining logged in to your personal account at the same site via a normal window.

When using an incognito tab, your web browsing session is much more private (hence why it’s known as private browsing). People tend to use private browsing to protect their personal data or browsing activity from other users of their devices. Private browsing is also an easy way to log out of websites when using someone else’s device – provided you close the browser window at the end of your browsing session.

Because private browsing sessions do not store your cookies once you close your private browsing window, you are less likely to see online advertising related to the websites you visited when using incognito mode (although this likelihood of not seeing the ad is relatively small as your IP is still tracked). In addition, some reported that you could get better prices for hotels and airfares when searching in incognito mode. This is because some travel websites can display more expensive prices based on your geolocation or if you have repeatedly returned to the site to check the cost.

Provided you are not logged into your Google account, any searches you make will not appear in your Google account history or influence future Google search results. Similarly, if you watch a video on YouTube or another service in private browsing, provided you are not logged into that service, your activity does not affect the recommendations you receive in normal browsing mode.

Is incognito mode really incognito?

It is important to be aware of the limitations of incognito mode since the term ‘private browsing’ can lead people to think incognito mode offers more privacy than it does. While it erases data stored on your PC, your IP address is still visible to others. The means that your internet service provider, the websites you have visited, your school, employer, or government agencies can still track your browsing activity. To prevent that from happening, you need to use more sophisticated tools which use encryption, such as virtual private networks or VPNs.

In addition, incognito mode does not protect you against cyberattacks such as phishing, malware, or viruses. If you already have spyware installed on your device, it can still track your activity and steal sensitive information, even in incognito mode. Mozilla has compiled a helpful page detailing some of the common misperceptions related to private browsing.

Private browsing is intended to erase local traces of websites you have visited, what you have searched for, what online forms you have submitted, and so on. It is meant to hide your activity from others with access to the personal computer. That is all it does.

Using a private browser can help to protect your online privacy, but it doesn’t protect you completely.

How to use private browsing

So, how to use incognito mode? Different browsers have different names for private browsing. For example, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and Apple Safari call it 'Private browsing', while Google Chrome calls it ‘Incognito’, and Microsoft Edge refers to it as 'InPrivate'. Here is how you can activate private browsing within the main browsers:

Private browsing in Chrome

Google Chrome’s Incognito mode won’t save your browsing history, cookies, site data, or information you enter on forms. It will keep files you download and your bookmarks.

To turn on Incognito mode on your computer, Android, iPhone, or iPad:

  1. Open Chrome.
  2. Click on the Tools menu (three vertical dots on Mac or three stacked lines on Windows) in the upper right corner.
  3. Choose “New Incognito Window” to open a new private browsing window.

You can also use a keyboard shortcut by pressing Control+Shift+N to open a new incognito window. You can recognize the new incognito window can by the dark background and the stylized spy icon to the left of the three-dots menu. Chrome also reminds users of what incognito mode does and does not do each time a new window is opened.

Private browsing in Safari

Safari’s private browsing mode removes temporary files — browsing history, form data, and cookies — by default when the window is closed.

To enable private browsing on a Mac:

  1. Open Safari.
  2. Navigate to the menu bar and choose “File”.
  3. Click on the “Private Window” option to open a private window.

To use a keyboard shortcut, press Shift+Command+N to open a private browsing window in Safari.

Private browsing in Firefox

Mozilla Firefox Private Browsing mode offers an additional feature in the form of tracking protection. With this feature, Mozilla helps protect your browsing history from being gathered by third parties.

To access private browsing in Firefox:

  1. Open Firefox.
  2. Go to the menu in the upper right corner (three horizontal lines) and click “New Private Window”. 
  3. A new private window will appear with a purple mask icon in the top right of the Firefox window.
  4. You can also use the keyboard shortcuts: Control+Shift+N for Windows or Command+Shift+N on a Mac.
  5. Your Firefox private window has a purple band across it, and from there, you can turn on an additional tracking-protection feature.

InPrivate browsing in Microsoft Edge

Microsoft Edge won’t save the pages you visit, form data, or web searches. However, downloaded files plus your bookmarks will be held on your computer after closing the InPrivate window. When you close your InPrivate window, Microsoft's browsers also will disable third-party bars that were installed, along with extensions.

To access InPrivate browsing on Microsoft Edge:

  1. Open Microsoft Edge. 
  2. Right-click the Microsoft Edge logo in the taskbar and select “New InPrivate window”.
  3. In Microsoft Edge, select “Settings and more > New InPrivate window”.

Microsoft's browser marks InPrivate when the mode is operating: a blue-colored oval marked "In Private" to the right of the address bar combines with a full-black screen to make sure users know they are using a private browser.

You can also launch an InPrivate session by right-clicking a link within Edge and selecting Open in InPrivate Window. That option is grayed out when already in a private browsing session but using Open Link in New Tab does just that within the current InPrivate frame.

Private browsing in Opera

Opera’s private browsing mode offers the same temporary data privacy as the others. In addition, it has a feature that enables you to turn on its VPN connection that could further protect your browsing activities.

To turn on Opera incognito:

  1. Open the Opera browser.
  2. Click the menu in the upper left corner.
  3. Choose “New Private Window” to open a private browsing window.

How to go incognito on your phone

Incognito mode on Android:

  1. On your Android device, open Chrome and tap the three-dot menu button in the address bar.
  2. A drop-down window will appear with several actions available, such as starring the page or opening a new window.
  3. One of the options is “New incognito tab.” Tap that, and Chrome will open a new, private tab.
  4. You will see the spy icon with a fedora and glasses and a confirmation that “you’ve gone incognito.”
  5. You can jump between incognito tabs and regular tabs by tapping the tab tool in the address bar. You will only be browsing privately when you are in an actual incognito tab.

Private browsing on iPhone and iPad:

With iOS 14:

  1. Open Safari and tap the two square-icon at the bottom of your screen (if you don’t see the icon, tap near the bottom of the screen).
  2. Tap Private”.
  3. Now tap the + icon to open a new site in a private window (you will also see any existing Safari windows in Private Browsing).
  4. When you want to use a standard window, head back to the Safari page manager (two-square icon) and tap “Private” again to turn it off, then tap “Done”.

You can tell if you are using Private Browsing as the URL/search bar will appear with a dark theme instead of white or gray for standard windows.

With iOS 15:

  1. In iOS 15, open Safari.
  2. Tap the two-square icon in the bottom right corner (top right corner if using landscape view).
  3. Tap the “1 Tab” button (or “X Tabs”).
  4. Choose “Private”.
  5. Tap the + icon in the bottom corner.
  6. You can tell you are using Private Browsing as the address/search turns dark.
  7. Follow the same steps and tap “Private” again to stop using the feature.

How can I browse the internet privately?

A more private option than using a browser's incognito or private browsing mode is a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN will conceal your IP address, which is the unique identifier your computer, phone, or tablet is assigned on the internet. VPNs work by encrypting the data you send and receive over the internet, making it unreadable to anyone without a decryption key.

Kaspersky Secure Connection provides a secure way to enjoy the internet without compromising on speed.

Related articles:

Incognito mode and private browsing: What is it, and how can you use it?

Incognito mode allows you to browse privately. Learn how incognito mode works and how to use private browsing mode on different devices & browsers.
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