Does Incognito Mode Work? Or Does It Just Give a False Sense of Privacy?
We’ve all been there — looking up some bizarre, embarrassing, cringe-inducing things online. Chances are you don’t want them in your browser where your mom, roommate, boss, or aunt Karen might stumble upon. So, you fire up your browser’s tried-and-true incognito, or private, mode which promises to keep your activity from prying eyes. But you may be shocked to learn how little protection it actually provides. That said, what exactly does incognito mode do? Read along to find out.
What is incognito mode?
Incognito mode is a feature when the browser, be it Chrome or any other, automatically erases a record of the web pages you visit. Every browser has a different name for this setting:
Incognito Mode in Chrome
InPrivate Mode in Microsoft Edge
Private Browsing in Safari
Private mode in Firefox
Once you open an incognito window, your browser starts a new private browsing session — all the cookies and site data saved during this session will be automatically swiped.
What does incognito mode do?
When activated, incognito mode does the following:
- Keeps your browser history empty
- Deletes browser cache that contains the contents of pages you visit
- Erases cookies that track your web activity
- Blocks third-party cookies unless you choose to allow them
The idea is that once you’re done with your session and you close your browser, all the info related to page visits gets deleted making it invisible to the next person who uses the browser. That said, an incognito mode masks your Internet activity from people with physical access to your computer or phone.
Is incognito mode safe?
So, does incognito mode boost your online privacy online? Yep. Does it serve as Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak and hide your identity? That’s a no.
You’ve probably seen the warnings that pop up in incognito mode telling you your employer or Internet Service Provider (ISP) might still be able to keep tabs on your online activity.
How would they do that? You’re supposed to be incognito, right? Well, because incognito mode only affects what’s being stored locally on your device. All of that traffic is still being routed through the servers of your ISP and, perhaps, your school or office when you’re going online there. So it can still be intercepted and tracked. This means that if you really want to anonymize your web traffic, consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to conceal your identity (more on that later).
Using incognito mode comes with other risks:
- Browsers don’t always securely delete any data that you built up during an incognito session. Some of it could still be found within a software recovery program or inside your device’s DNS cache — it matches the URLs of the sites you visit to the IP addresses.
- Things that go wrong on your device can compromise the effectiveness of incognito mode. Since many browsers delete the data from your incognito mode session, once you close your session, an unexpected error like a computer crash could keep that data from being deleted entirely.
- Any malware or spying software like a keylogger could easily be keeping tabs on your incognito browsing if your device is infected.
This leads us to answer the “What doesn’t incognito mode do?” question in detail.
What doesn’t incognito mode do?
When you first open a browser window in an incognito mode, most browsers warn you of its limitations. Most people skip this part, so let’s spell it out here. An incognito mode doesn’t:
- Prevent web tracking. Your ISP, the government, or network admin at your office or school can still see which websites you visit. Your IP address and web activity can still be tracked.
- Hide your location. Incognito mode doesn’t work out in the web — websites can still see where you are from based on your IP address or GPS.
- Cloak your IP address. Websites you visit can see your IP address and use it to track you.
- Protect your traffic from cybercriminals. Incognito mode’s scope of work is limited here because this feature doesn’t offer any extra security features.
- Delete your browsing history from the DNS cache. As we’ve already mentioned, anyone with extra know-how can locate your incognito mode history on your device.
Now, we’re not trying to scare you or make you think that private browsing is useless. It’s still a great tool and an easy extra layer of security. In fact, let’s do a quick recap of when you should use it.
When should you use incognito mode?
There’s definitely no harm in using incognito mode. Because it doesn’t save the websites you visit, the info you might put into forms on those websites for autofill, or cookies from those websites, an incognito mode is good for:
- Stopping advertisers from snooping (and being annoying). No cookies and site data mean no targeted advertising. The latter can be a real drag if it follows your family members around and shows them which birthday gift you’ve been looking up for them.
- Protecting your web activity on a shared/public computer. Incognito mode prevents those who share a computer with you from tracking your online activity. They can’t look up your browsing history or login and site data.
- Using two accounts at the same platforms. You can log in to multiple accounts that only allow one user logged in at a time. This comes in handy when your friend wants to use your device to log in to their accounts or you want to keep your personal and work profiles apart.
- Getting better deals. Some airline or hotel websites may change prices based on your search history. But since incognito mode doesn’t store cookies, those companies can’t hike their prices.
- Discovering different content. When we look for the same thing, it’s a hint to websites that we like this content. So many of them personalize our experience and show us something similar. For example, if you tune into DIY videos on YouTube, you’ll see your homepage filled with various tips. However, since incognito mode doesn’t record your browsing history, the website content you see will update.
So yeah, incognito mode isn’t at all bad or futile, but it’s important to understand its limitations. Remember that just because a browser deletes the information about your session doesn’t mean it’ll keep a determined snoop from finding out what you’ve been up to. You’ll need some stronger tools here.
How to browse privately
It takes a lot more than the glasses-and-hat disguise icon to cover your tracks and achieve greater privacy online. Stick to the following if you want to keep your browsing and private data to yourself.
1. Choose a privacy-friendly browser
Web browsers like Chrome or Edge are the popular kids on the block. But they don’t care much about your privacy. You can be better off using more secure browsers — they block trackers and don’t log your data for profit.
2. Use a private search engine
Search engines, like DuckDuckGo, Mojeek, Brave Search, and others, let you browse the web without being tracked. They provide you with a completely unfiltered overview of the Internet and a safe way to search for things online.
3. Add browser extensions for extra privacy
If ditching Chrome seems like a stretch, you can go for browser extensions to get greater privacy. They can block scripts, ads, or trackers. Besides, they are easy to use with most browsers.
4. Secure your social media settings
Most social media companies earn revenue by collecting and selling user data to marketers and other third parties. But now that social media companies have given users greater control over their data, you can play with the settings to minimize data collection on these websites and apps.
5. Disable third-party cookies
Third-party cookies are tracked by websites other than the one you are visiting. Advertisers use them to track you across different platforms. While Google plans to phase out third-party cookies in Chrome by the end of 2024, you can already disable them manually through your browser.
6. Use a VPN connection
A VPN is a perfect remedy where incognito mode comes up short. By routing your traffic through a VPN server, VPNs encrypt all your data and mask your IP address. This prevents third parties from tracking you online. You just need to pick a reliable provider and let it get the job done.
How to dodge trackers with VeePN
You get a shot at Internet privacy with your data safe with next-gen AES-256 encryption and a new IP address from connecting to one of the 2,500+ VPN servers in 89 locations. VeePN goes even further with its NetGuard feature — it blocks ads, trackers, and malicious websites on the spot, adding privacy and security for your daily browsing.
You can go about two ways here:
- Install a browser extension for Chrome, Edge, or Firefox and encrypt all your browser traffic.
- Get a dedicated app for your PC and phone or both to protect all of the data coming in and out of your device — VeePN works on most popular operating systems.
Picked a platform? Create a VeePN account and install the app or browser extension on your device and open it. Then, go to Settings to turn on tracking prevention. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it on VeePN Chrome Extension:
- Go to Extensions by clicking on the puzzle icon and select VeePN.
- Go to the menu and click on Settings.
- Toggle on needed switches.
- Return to the main screen and click Connect.
And that’s it — enjoy the web with your tracks covered!
Let’s draw some conclusions.
- Incognito mode hides your Internet activity from others who might look at/use your device — but not from the wider world.
- While your web activity isn’t saved on your device, the websites you visit, your ISP, your corporate network administrator, or search engines can still track your behavior when you browse in incognito mode.
- Add in using a VPN while going full incognito — this tandem will work well to keep your data private from prying eyes.
So yeah, opening a new browser window in incognito mode doesn’t make you vanish under a cloak of invisibility with all your browsing history perfectly hidden from the world. Bummer. But you can go the extra mile to mask it. Use VeePN to keep your Internet activity as it should be — private.
Can you be tracked in incognito mode?
Yes, incognito mode doesn’t mean anonymous browsing. It hides your Internet activity from others who might look at/use your device. However, it doesn’t mask your IP address nor encrypt your data, which allows third parties to snoop on you. Learn more in this article.
Can the Wi-Fi owner see what sites I visited Incognito?
Yep, incognito mode only clocks your Internet activity from others who might look at/use your device. Yet, the Wi-Fi router can still log that info and the network admin can always retrieve it later. Find out more in our blog post.