What Is Incognito Mode and How Safe Is It?

Tips & Advice

The internet makes it easy to get a lot done, but not all of it needs to be public. That’s where incognito mode comes in, letting you hide your search history from others who are using your internet-connected device. For example, imagine searching online for “ideas for a surprise birthday party.” You wouldn’t want the guest of honor to see that if they use your shared computer!  

What most people don’t realize, though, is that incognito mode or private browsing isn’t really private. If you want to have a private browsing session, it helps to understand what incognito mode does and doesn’t do. 

In this article, we’ll explain what incognito mode is, how to turn it on using different search engines and mobile devices, and why a VPN like McAfee Secure VPN might be a better option for safeguarding your privacy. 

What is incognito mode?

When you search the internet, your web browser automatically saves the history of your searches. In incognito mode, however, it deletes this information when you end the session.  

Google Chrome coined “incognito mode,” so the term is pretty popular. Other web browsers might refer to it differently. For example, Firefox calls it “private mode,” while Safari uses the term “private browsing.”  

What does incognito mode hide?

When you search the internet in private browsing mode, your browser won’t save the history of the websites once you close all of the incognito tabs. This deleted information might include: 

  • Browsing history, which is a list of the websites you recently visited 
  • Cookies, which are small files websites use to remember you and your login information 
  • Site data, which is information entered on a website’s forms 

What browsing history data is visible with incognito mode?

Incognito mode can be super convenient but, as we said, it’s not really private. While it’s true that anyone using your device won’t be able to view your history, your browsing can still be viewed by outside eyes, like:  

  • Internet service providers (ISP): The company that provides your internet service knows every site you’ve visited. If they receive a subpoena from law enforcement, they’ll have to turn over that data. 
  • Websites: Even if you’re in incognito mode, your ISP shares your internet protocol (IP) address with the websites you visit. The IP address is a unique number that identifies an internet-enabled device. Anyone with your IP address can determine the city, or possibly the neighborhood, where you live. The only way to conceal your IP address when browsing is to use a virtual private network like McAfee Secure VPN. 
  • School or company networks: If you use a network run by your school or employer, they can see your browsing history even if you’re in incognito mode. 
  • Websites you log into: When you’re in incognito mode and log into a website like Twitter, you won’t be anonymous. The site can also share your data with other websites. 

How to turn on incognito mode

Every major browser and mobile device has a type of private browsing. Here’s how to access incognito mode in a few different ways. 

Private browsing in Google Chrome

It’s easy to launch a search in incognito mode in Google Chrome. Just follow these steps:  

  1. Open the Chrome browser on your device. 
  2. Click the three vertical dots in the upper-right corner of the window. 
  3. Select “New Incognito Window.”  
  4. Or use a keyboard shortcut: In Windows, Linux, or Chrome, press Ctrl + Shift + N. On a Mac, press ⌘ + Shift + N. 

You’ll know you’re in Chrome’s incognito mode by the black background and spy icon on the homepage. Here, Chrome reminds you of what incognito mode will and won’t do.  

There is also a toggle to block third-party cookies. When you visit different websites while in incognito mode, websites can track your movement. They might use that data to target ads based on your search history. When you enable third-party cookie blocking, it stops sites from sharing cookies and data. 

Private browsing on your Android device

Here’s how to set it up in the Google Chrome browser for your Android (note that the Google Chrome app is the default browser for most Android phones): 

  1. Open Chrome. 
  2. Tap the three dots at the top-right corner of the screen. 
  3. Tap “New incognito tab.” This will open up a new incognito window. 
  4. Close the incognito window to end the incognito session. 

Remember, for Google Chrome’s incognito mode to do the trick, you need to close your browsing session after each use. If you leave the tab open and someone else uses your phone, they can see your activity. 

Private browsing in Mozilla Firefox

What Chrome calls “incognito mode,” Mozilla Firefox refers to as “private browsing.” There are a couple of ways to launch a private window using the steps below: 

  1. Open Mozilla on your browser. 
  2. Click the three horizontal lines in the top-right corner. 
  3. Select “New Private Window.” 
  4. Or use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + P in Windows. On a Mac, press Command + Shift + P. 

The private browsing window has a dark-purple background and a mask icon. This homepage also describes the limitations of private browsing. 

With its Enhanced Tracking Protection, Firefox blocks third-party tracking across sites. This is a default protection on Firefox, so cookies are blocked across sites no matter which privacy setting a user chooses. 

Private browsing in Apple Safari

Apple’s Safari was the first to introduce private browsing for Apple devices in 2005. Users have a couple of ways to open a private window on a Mac or an iOS device. They include: 

  1. Go to the File menu and select “New Private Window.” 
  2. The keyboard shortcut is to hold down Command + Shift + N. 
  3. On an iPhone, open Safari. Tap the “Tabs” button (the two squares on the lower right). Tap “Private.” Tap “Done.” 

Your sign that you’re in a private browser window is a dark gray search bar. Like Firefox, Safari lets you block third-party tracking (you’ll just need to adjust your settings to do so). Choose Safari on your Mac. Go to “Preferences” and click “Privacy.” Then, select “Prevent cross-site tracking.” 

Private browsing on your iPhone

For iPhones, the default browser is Safari. Here’s how to set up private browsing in Safari for your iPhone: 

  1. Open Safari. 
  2. Tap the tab icon at the bottom right of the screen (it looks like two overlapping squares). 
  3. Tap “private” at the bottom-left of the screen. 
  4. To exit private mode, tap “private” again. 

Remember to close your browser’s private tabs when you’re done surfing. This makes sure that cookies are deleted and the private session is safely hidden from your device’s history. 

Why do people use incognito mode?

Doing a private search that erases your browsing history can be useful in certain situations. Because some cookies are deleted at the end of your search, you’ll see fewer ads than in a normal search.  

If there’s something you don’t want to keep in your browser history, like shopping for a gift for a relative, an incognito search can keep your activity private.  

It’s also a good idea to use incognito mode when using a public device or a borrowed computer to protect your data.  

Incognito mode is even helpful if you want to do a search that’s not influenced by your browsing history or to see your blog or website from a fresh perspective. 

Is incognito mode safe?

The terms “private search” and “incognito mode” sound great. But while your history is erased on your device, it’s still visible to the outside world. Even when you’re in incognito mode, websites, your ISP, and your network can still see your IP address and browsing history. 

Not to mention, it won’t delete any files you download, like malicious software. While someone using your device won’t be able to see your browsing history, incognito mode won’t be able to stop hackers and identity thieves in their tracks. 

If you really want to hide your computer’s IP address and browse privately while keeping your data safe, it’s a good idea to look into a VPN service, like McAfee Secure VPN. With our smart VPN, you can browse confidently and stay anonymous from advertisers and prying eyes. You’ll also benefit from bank-grade encryption and automatic protection on unsecured networks.  

Browse online confidently

If your goal is to keep prying eyes out of your browsing history, incognito browsing might not be enough. Use a McAfee Secure VPN for worry-free browsing.  

For added security, though, upgrade to McAfee Total Protection Ultimate and enjoy antivirus protection, identity monitoring, and more! 

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