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Is Incognito/Private Browsing mode truly private?

Posted on September 8th, 2018 by in Privacy, Security.

 

What is Incognito Mode?

Incognito Mode is a privacy setting for Google Chrome (other browsers have different names for a similar service – Private Browsing Mode for Firefox, Private Browsing for Safari) that prevents the browser from storing a site’s URL, text entered into the site’s forms, and cookies. (Cookies are small data files that contain a small amount of personal information, such as language preferences.) It also prevents any site you visit while using the Incognito tab from being logged in the browser’s History.

Being incognito does not mean you are anonymous

If you are in Incognito Mode, there is not a record of your browsing history stored on the browser but your IP address is still public. Your Internet service provider, whoever runs the network you are connected to, and the website you are on can still see and track all your online activity. Using an Incognito tab or a private browser might make your activity invisible on the computer you are using, but the rest of the Internet still sees and records all your activity like normal. It does not enhance your privacy on the Internet nor does it add any security against attacks or attempts to access your private data.

The best way to keep your online activity private is to use a VPN service or TOR.

What Incognito Mode is useful for:

Incognito Mode was not designed with secure, private online browsing in mind. Its purpose was rather to allow people to browse the Internet privately on a shared device, like a home computer.  However, there are several other situations where Incognito Mode is equally useful.

  • Using a public computer – Incognito mode prevents the Internet browser from remembering what information was put into a website’s form, adding extra protection to screen names and financial information.
  • Using multiple accounts on one device – Also known as “isolated browsing,” using incognito mode is one way to access multiple Twitter or Facebook accounts at the same time.
  • Preventing others users of the same device from seeing your online activity – In incognito mode, your computer does not log your online activity – including searches history and visited pages – making it difficult for anyone who uses the device after you to determine what you were looking at.
  • Finding cheaper flights – Hotels and airlines rely on cookies to see how often you check for flights and rooms. If an airline sees that you keep checking flights to London, it will raise the price. In incognito mode, these cookies do not exist, so you will always get the most competitive price.
  • Getting around media paywalls – Similar to airlines, news sites use cookies to keep track of how many times you have visited the site. If you cannot reach the news story because you have used reach your article limit for the month, access the same story in an Incognito tab.

In other words, Incognito, or Private Browsing mode is quite useful, but a bit of a misnomer, as it doesn’t actually make you private or anonymous, just harder to track. Still, we recommend using it, particularly on public or shared computers.

Best Regards,
The ProtonVPN Team

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Prior to joining ProtonVPN, Richie spent several years working on tech solutions in the developing world. As a senior editor and writer at Latterly, he covered and commented on international human rights stories. He joined ProtonVPN to advance the rights of online privacy and freedom.

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3 comments

  1. Erotavlas

    Hi,
    “Using multiple accounts on one device – Also known as “isolated browsing,” using incognito mode is one way to access multiple Twitter or Facebook accounts at the same time.”
    Firefox with containers achieves the same results in standard mode https://blog.mozilla.org/firefox/facebook-container-extension/

  2. Dre

    What is your opinion about Brave browser?

  3. Monica

    Hello! When it comes to privacy oriented products, we strongly recommend to follow https://www.privacytools.io/ guide, which provides a lot of useful information about various tools you can use, including Brave browser.

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