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Incognito Mode Explained: Does it Make you Anonymous?
Updated: Aug 10, 2021 / Article by: Timothy Shim
Incognito Mode is a setting that prevents your browsing history from being stored. Whilst many users associate incognito mode solely with the private browsing feature of Google Chrome, the more general term is actually private browsing.
What is Private Browsing?
Private browsing comes as a standard feature on most browsers today – the most recognized variant being Chrome’s incognito feature. Initially, this mode was designed as a safeguard for users who were on public computers.
Turning on incognito mode allows users on public computers to browse privately. However, it needs to be mentioned that there are limitations of browsing even in incognito, or should I say private mode.
Have you ever wondered how safe and secure it truly is?
Regardless of which browser you use, using private browsing will not make you anonymous. The mode merely allows you to discard records of your activities and data once you’re no longer using the system. To become truly anonymous on the Internet, you will need specialized applications such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) – which private browsing is not.
Browser's Incognito Mode
What browsers' incognito mode really does is to stop your digital footprint from being exposed to users of the same system after yourself. Let’s take a look at what some of the various browsers have done in this aspect.
Chrome’s Incognito Mode
Google Chrome’s Incognito Mode was designed to make it easier to share computers at places like the office. But enabling Incognito Mode doesn’t keep your identity private. For example, Chrome won’t save your browsing history, cookies, site data, or information you enter on forms, but it will retain files you download and your bookmarks.
It also doesn’t mask your activities from websites you’ve visited, tracking applications, or your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Additionally, the use of Incognito effectively disables any extensions you might be using with your browser.
Mozilla Firefox Private Browsing Mode
With Firefox, private browsing works in a slightly different way compared to other browsers. Along with not recording your web browsing history, the browser also features built-in tracking protection. This helps block parts of websites that try to track your browsing history and activities across multiple sites.
Microsoft Edge InPrivate Mode
Microsoft’s New Edge Browser offers an InPrivate browsing window, very similar to the others already in the market. It won’t save the pages you visit, form data, or web searches, but will retain files you download and the bookmarks saved on your computer even after you close the InPrivate window.
Microsoft’s browsers also will disable third-party toolbars, so any extensions that you might have installed when you open up an InPrivate browser won’t work.
Private Browsing is Not as Private as You May Think
While many users have been making use of private browsing modes because they feel that it is more secure, this isn’t necessarily so. Although when compared to your standard browsing tab there are improvements, the Internet is actually a pretty scary place with more threats than can be imagined.
Essentially, a private mode is just a quick and easy option which prevents access to your search history and cookies on your computer. Since that’s the case, users can feel free to log into their email accounts, social networks, or even bank accounts on any devices.
While proven to be effective to some extent, this doesn’t mean that you can’t be tracked online. Seriously, if you want to mask your identity completely, then private browsing is not your one-stop solution.
For example, Google Chrome may prevent the logging of your browsing history but it is not possible for it to stop your operating system or the websites themselves from knowing you visited certain URLs. Your activity might still be visible to the authorities.
The Problem with Private Browsing
One very critical issue about private browsing (whether Incognito, InPrivate, or any other kind) is that it will not hide your IP address. This is important since your IP is like a glaring neon address sign for your device on the Internet. In real life, that’s not information you want everyone to have now, is it?
Private browsing also does not protect you from malicious programs or spyware that may have been inconspicuously attached to random files you download. If you have malicious software downloaded on your computer, the malware will continue working regardless of whether you use private browsing.
Any monitoring software with parental controls or network monitors installed can also easily record whatever you’ve been doing online, even if you do it ‘privately’. Anyone with administrative access can essentially know all of your actions.
VPNs as the Better Solution
If you really want to be anonymous on the Internet, VPNs will be a far better choice. A VPN can provide you with security and privacy measures you need for browsing securely online. It helps not just mask your IP address, but also encrypts all data coming in or going out of your device.
Simplistically, they work by routing your device’s internet connection through your chosen VPN’s secure server rather than the one your ISP uses. In essence, when your data is being transmitted, the world will think that the source is the VPN server rather than your computer.
How a VPN helps ensure true online privacy
VPNs use advanced encryption protocols and techniques to protect all transfers or exchanges of data. Although there are many VPNs out there that you can choose from, I strongly suggest you stick with a reputable VPN service provider like ExpressVPN.
ExpressVPN has apps for multiple platforms (such as Windows, Mac, mobile devices, or even routers) which helps its users route all internet traffic through their network. As a result, you can mask your origin, destination points, and not leave tracks everywhere you land in general.
They also make use of military-grade encryption to secure your data with and have a strict no-logging policy. No matter which VPN service you sign up with, always ensure that it has one of these in place, clearly stated by them.
The most important takeaway from all of this that you should realize is that private browsing offers protection, but in a very limited way. These browsings modes are not the same as VPNs and do not offer the full measure of protection which a VPN has.
When it comes to choosing between private browsing mode and a VPN to help protect yourself online, there really is no competition. If you really want to protect your identity and information online, consider a VPN more seriously.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Incognito mode a VPN?
No, it is a limited private browsing mode that helps prevent storing some data on devices during specific sessions. VPNs offer much higher degrees of protection to both identity and data by using secure servers, communication protocols, and encryption.
Does incognito mode hide IP addresses?
No. You can only mask your IP address by using a proxy server or a VPN. Proxy servers are in general less secure, so your best bet at hiding your IP address is with a VPN service.
How do I go Incognito on Chrome?
On Windows, Linux, or Chrome OS: Press Ctrl + Shift + n.
For Macs: Press ⌘ + Shift + n.
How safe is Incognito?
Not very. Incognito mostly serves to not store some data while you browse. Sites you visit can still track you and your data can be intercepted by third-parties.
Can I be Tracked on Incognito mode?
Yes. Almost all websites, monitoring programs, and even your ISP will still be able to track your online activities with ease. Your IP address will also not be hidden, so anyone can trace you back to your point of origin.
About Timothy Shim
Timothy Shim is a writer, editor, and tech geek. Starting his career in the field of Information Technology, he rapidly found his way into print and has since worked with International, regional and domestic media titles including ComputerWorld, PC.com, Business Today, and The Asian Banker. His expertise lies in the field of technology from both consumer as well as enterprise points of view.