Incognito Mode : Not as IN-visible as you may think

What is the Incognito Mode?

Incognito mode as the name suggests is used when you want to have an unknown identity when browsing the web through your computer or mobile browser.

What is Incognito Mode meant to be used for?

Incognito/private mode helps you browse the web without storing browsing data on your browser so that it can’t be retrieved later. This means that your searches, visited pages, log in details and cookies will not be saved on the device after you close your private windows. However, any files you download or bookmarks you create will be kept. Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Microsoft Edge, and Internet Explorer all offer similar private modes.

What it does:

  • Deletes cookies when you close the window;
  • Keeps your browsing history empty.

What it doesn’t do:

  • Hide your traffic from third parties like your ISP, the government, or your network admin at your office or university;
  • Secure your traffic from hackers or other attacks and vulnerabilities.

How to use incognito mode?

To start browsing in incognito mode, open your browser, select “File” and then choose “New Private Window” or “New Incognito Window” (the name may vary from browser to browser). Here are the shortcuts for different browsers:

Chrome: Control/⌘ + Shift + N
Firefox: Control/⌘ + Shift + P
Internet Explorer: Control + Shift + P
Safari: ⌘ + Shift + N

Once you are done, simply close the window, and that’s it – your local browsing history is gone. You can also make your browser start in private browsing mode by default so that your online activities are never logged locally. To do this, search your browser’s settings tab.

Does incognito mode makes you fully anonymous?

No, the incognito mode doesn’t make you fully anonymous/invisible.

As stated, incognito mode prevents Chrome from logging your surfing sessions on your phone. It doesn’t prevent a whole range of others from seeing your online activity.

For example, any website you visit will know you visited, as will its advertisers. Any website you sign in to will know you browsed to that site because it logged the sign-in. If you’re at work or school, whoever runs the network will have access to your browsing history. The same goes for your internet provider at home. That means AT&T or Verizon Wireless if you’re out and about, or Comcast or Verizon FiOS in your house. Search engines, too, will have access to your browsing history and may even show search suggestions based on where you are or what you are up to.

What can these entities actually see? Your IP address, which is a way of identifying your basic location. Your actual, real-time activity as you use a web site or service. Also, and this is key, your identity if you sign in to any web service. That includes Google-owned sites such as Gmail.

Incognito mode does not hide you from law enforcement.

Incognito mode does not hide you from law enforcement, which can task your wireless or wired internet provider to locate your IP address and reveal your history (provided a warrant is issued).

There’s more.

Chrome itself does not store any files you may download while browsing in incognito mode; however, those files are saved to the folder of the main download. The files are there even after you close your private browsing session. This means anyone can find and open them.

Any bookmarks you create in private mode are saved to Chrome. That means if you save a bookmark for an adult website or service, it’ll show up in your bookmark folder. Moreover, any preferences, settings, and accessibility adjustments you make during private browsing may be saved to Chrome, too.

How to actually browse privately

In addition to using incognito/private mode, you need a browser or browser extension that will protect your privacy from third parties as well.

Here are a few good options:

  • Firefox, with the right settings, is a good mainstream choice when it comes to security and privacy. However, it doesn’t come close to more specialized browsers;
  • The Tor browser is a great option for maximum privacy, but it can run a bit slow because of the multiple nodes it sends your traffic through;
  • Vivaldi is an interesting browser with strong security and privacy features and a high degree of customizability.

If you want to stick with your current browser, privacy extensions are the way to go. There’s a huge selection of tools you can use to make sure you truly browse securely and privately.

To complete your private browsing experience, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). It hides your IP address and replaces it with the IP address of a remote VPN server, making it impossible to track you via IP address alone. It also encrypts your traffic, protecting your browsing habits from your ISP and other third parties.  NordVPN, for example, uses military-grade encryption and keeps no logs of your online activities.

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Karan Singh

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