What Does Incognito Mode Actually Do?
Hint: It's probably less than you think.
Most web browsers have a private browsing mode—Incognito Mode for Chrome, Private for Safari, InPrivate for Microsoft Edge, and Private Browsing for Mozilla Firefox. People assume that these private browsing modes keep their internet activities hidden while in use, but that’s only part of the story.
Let’s take a deeper look into incognito mode and how to actually browse the internet securely.
What private browsing does and doesn’t do
To put it simply, an incognito or private browser deletes internet cookies, browser history, site info, and form information from your computer as soon as you close the incognito session. To your computer, it’s as if the browsing session never happened.
Minor details change between private modes for different internet browsers, but basically, incognito mode gives you an internet fresh start. When you visit a site incognito, it’s like you’re visiting for the first time. You’re not logged in to any accounts, and some private browsers even disable toolbars.
What private browsing doesn’t do
Though incognito mode doesn’t store data from your browsing session to your computer, it also doesn’t encode your data or otherwise prevent your workplace, parental controls, internet provider, or the government (if they’re looking) from seeing your data. Outside your own internet browser, the session data still exists.
And if you log in to any accounts while in incognito mode, data can be stored on those accounts. For example, if you log in to your Amazon account in incognito mode to buy a present, that purchase will still be visible in your Amazon account after you’ve exited incognito mode.
Use a VPN to keep your data truly private
If you’re looking for more-private-than-incognito browsing, you should use a virtual private network, or VPN. Unlike private browsing modes, using a VPN like NordVPN masks your IP address while you’re online. That makes you virtually anonymous and keeps your browsing activities truly private.
VPNs keep your info private by encrypting your data and routing it through a remote server so it looks like your activity is actually happening through that server instead of your home network. Just make sure your VPN of choice doesn’t log your data (some free ones do)—that’s just giving someone else control over your data privacy.
Beyond private browsing, we recommend using a VPN for a few different reasons, including remote work. To get a better picture of when using a VPN could be useful, read our list of five reasons to use a VPN.
What is Incognito Mode?
Incognito Mode is a privacy feature of Google Chrome that allows you to navigate the internet without saving your browsing history data after you’ve closed the browsing session.
There are a ton of reasons why you might want to browse incognito:
- You’re shopping for a gift and don’t want targeted ads giving you away.
- You’re using a shared or public computer and want to maintain your privacy.
- You have an embarrassing search query and don’t want it showing up in your history.
- You’re specifically shopping for a baby shower gift for a friend and don’t want diaper ads to plague you for the next several years.
How to start a private browsing session
Left click your browser icon and choose the appropriate mode for your browser. You can also open a browser regularly, navigate to “File,” and select it there.
- For Chrome, choose New Incognito Window.
- For Edge, choose New InPrivate window.
- For Firefox, Opera, or Safari, choose New Private Window.
How is Incognito Mode different from regular browsing?
As you navigate the web, your browser accumulates a lot of pieces of information—your searches, the websites you visit, anything you add to a shopping cart, internet cookies, etc.
A regular web browser saves a lot of this information to streamline your online experience. This means it allows you to do several things:
- Lets you stay logged in to accounts for days at a time
- Allows online stores to keep items in your shopping cart
- Saves info so forms can autofill your name and information
- Remembers your activities so advertisers can show you relevant ads
Private browsing deletes this temporary data when you close all your private browsing tabs.
Author - Rebecca Lee Armstrong
Rebecca Lee Armstrong has more than six years of experience writing about tech and the internet, with a specialty in hands-on testing. She started writing tech product and service reviews while finishing her BFA in creative writing at the University of Evansville and has found her niche writing about home networking, routers, and internet access at HighSpeedInternet.com. Her work has also been featured on Top Ten Reviews, MacSources, Windows Central, Android Central, Best Company, TechnoFAQ, and iMore.
Editor - Aaron Gates