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What Is Incognito Mode & Does It Really Work?

What is incognito mode? You might be familiar with the common assumption that when you use incognito mode your search history, sites visited, and passwords are kept completely private. But of course, nothing you do online is truly private and for your eyes only. So let’s dive into what incognito mode is, what it means, how to use it effectively, and if it’s really keeping your data and information private. 

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Incognito Mode

What is incognito mode?

There are different names for incognito mode depending on the browser you’re using. Google Chrome calls it Incognito, while both Safari and Firefox call it Private Browsing, and Microsoft Edge calls it InPrivate. But they’re all essentially doing the same thing- forgetting everything you do when you use them. Meaning your browsing history isn’t saved or logged and your autofill searches aren’t affected when you return to regular ‘public’ browsing. 

Incognito mode also means that cookies aren’t saved. Cookies enable you to stay logged into a site you visit frequently, stores your personal information, and helps in remembering things like what was left in your cart during an online checkout, whether to send you a newsletter sign-up form, pop-up forms, and more. 

How to go incognito? 

  • Google Chrome

When using Google Chrome you can use the shortcut Ctrl, Shift, n and an incognito window will open instantly 

  • Safari

To open private browsing when you use Safari, whether on a desktop, mobile, or tablet device, you need to tap on the Tabs button, tap Private, then tap Done 

  • Firefox

To open private browsing in Firefox, simply open a window and press Ctrl, Shift, P 

  • Internet Explorer

When using Internet Explorer, open a browsing window, click Tools, then select inPrivate Browsing

  • Microsoft Edge

It’s relatively easy to use Microsoft Edge’s InPrivate mode. Open Edge, press Ctrl+Shift+P to open a private browsing window 

What does incognito mode do?

When you’re in incognito mode, you’re basically surfing the web as if you are a new user to each site you’re visiting. No cookies, log-in information, or auto-filled forms will be available or recognized since the website thinks you’re a brand new visitor. So let’s say you want to visit Facebook, and you’re used to being automatically logged in when you enter the site. When you use incognito mode, you’ll not only be prompted to log-in, but a suggested email address or auto-fill won’t be available or shown.  

Even when you log-in to your accounts while being in incognito mode, your data won’t be saved when you log-out and exit the page. However, being logged-in while using incognito mode will help websites and advertisers collect your identifying data. After you log-in, you’re providing information where the services you’re using can match what you’re doing in private, in incognito, to your registered accounts. Essentially providing them the same access as when you browse regularly. 

When you use incognito mode, your information and history aren’t saved so you won’t have the same personalized experience, messaging or offers you see when you’re publicly browsing.

How private is incognito mode?

We know that when you browse the web normally, all of your history – search, log-in information, passwords, favorites, etc. are saved. You can only remove that history if you manually delete them and/or clear your cache. 

Incognito mode may hide your browsing and search history but it doesn’t hide your IP address, which is your device’s literal online identity and can be used for tracking purposes. In addition, your internet service provider can see the sites you visit. If you’re using a public network or computer, those network administrators may have that same level of access. And in some cases, even when you’re in incognito mode, you’re being tracked. Google was sued in 2020 for tracking people even though they were using incognito mode. 

When you browse in private or in incognito mode, you’re avoiding leaving a history of what you’re doing on your devices. But everything you do may still be tracked by companies and sites you’re visiting online. You aren’t completely invisible, but your searches, for the most part, are.

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