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Private browsing: How to go incognito and how private it really is


how private is incognito browsing
So you may have heard of private browsing before. (If it doesn’t ring a bell, just ask the nearest adolescent.) It’s also known as incognito mode or incognito browsing, and allows you to browse with some enhanced privacy over regular browsing. The idea is, you can browse whatever you like and not worry about needing to delete cookies or your history after. Once you close the incognito browser, it’s as though it never happened. This has useful applications at work, school, or a public place and don’t want others to see out what you’ve been browsing.

2 great times to use incognito

  • You’re at home on a shared computer and don’t want your spouse to find out what sites you plan to purchase your anniversary gift from, browse incognito and you can keep the surprise until the appropriate time.
  • You’re logged in to one of your social media accounts on regular browsing mode, and your friend wants to hop online quickly to check their Facebook account and send a message. Instead of needing to log you out and back in later, simply open an incognito window which they can close when they’re done. No passwords or cookies will be saved from this.

How to search in private browsing mode

Each browser has different settings (and names) to go incognito, so here’s how you can do it from Chrome and Firefox, the two most popular browsers. The process is very similar across most browsers so don’t worry if yours isn’t covered here.

How to go incognito in Chrome

So, how do I go incognito? From a desktop or laptop, first open Chrome and click on File then select New Incognito Window. A new window will appear with a grey incognito icon. You can do this from your keyboard by pressing Ctrl + Shift + N simultaneously (⌘ + Shift + N for Mac). Your window and browsing history will be in incognito mode. To go back to regular browsing, simply close out of the window. If this is too much typing for you, you can also right-click any link and select “Open in Incognito Window”.

If you are using Chrome from an Android device and wondering how to open incognito tab, open Chrome and tap on More, then New Incognito Tab.

*Note: If your account is part of the Windows 10 Family Mode, incognito is not available.

How to open a private window in Firefox

In Firefox you can open a new private window in two ways. You can go to File and select New Private Window. Because it’s called “private window” in Firefox, the keyboard shortcut is a little different from Chrome. From a PC it’s Ctrl +, Shift +, P simultaneously (⌘ + Shift + P for Mac)

Alternatively, you can right click on any link in your existing browser window and click “Open Link in New Private Window”. Firefox will not save your browsing history while you are in a private window.

Why does private browsing exist?

After we’ve learned how to go on incognito, let’s talk about its purpose. Private browsing is a great way to keep cookies and browsing history off your device because your browser won’t remember any history in a private browsing session. You can use private browsing to log into your various accounts. For instance, if you log into Facebook in a regular window and open a private window or tab, you will not be logged into that private session. This prevents Facebook from visiting the profile you logged in with so you can avoid annoying ads for suggested items or places you may be interested in based on your browsing history since your session will not retain any search, download, or web form history.

Private browsing also helps protect you against people snooping through your history if they get onto your computer. This type of browsing allows you to search and surf without a footprint once you close the window. Private browsing also blocks websites from storing cookies on your computer to track your visit history.

Top false assumptions around private browsing

Your private browsing session is not 100% private and anonymous. While private browsing prevents your browser from storing data, it does not prevent other applications such as keyloggers or spyware, which can monitor your history no matter what private browsing window or tab you have open. Spyware and keyloggers target everything on your device.

Private browsing also does not protect against parental control applications that can take a screenshot of your browser or monitor the sites you visit. While private browsing only affects your computer, it does not mean other computers and servers are blind to your browsing. For instance, if you are on a corporate machine, browsing sites you shouldn’t be, the traffic will go through a router on the network which your employer can still monitor website access. Web browsing history is always logged somewhere, so private browsing should be taken as a light approach to web privacy.

Private browsing use cases

Some good and practical uses to private browsing include

  • Visiting social media sites you don’t want to spam you with annoying ads or suggestions.
  • Shopping for that perfect gift for a family member and you don’t want them to know which sites you’ve visited.
  • Search for flight tickets incognito to avoid increasing prices with each visit.
  • Browsing on a public computer, ensure the sites you visit while logged into a social media account are not tracked.
  • Searching medical issues or other private matters.

Whatever the case, private browsing can be practical to use as a light way to offer protection when you don’t want others to know what you’ve been looking at online. It’s not a catch-all for privacy, but it certainly has its uses.

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