The Incognito browser mode or private mode is a web browser feature built to maintain (some) privacy to the browser users. However, it does not hide your public IP address, nor it provides any level of online anonymity.
What is the Incognito mode & how it works?
When someone browses the Internet the web browser (like Google Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Microsoft Edge) usually saves all kind of data like search history (learn how to protect yourself from search tracking), login details, automatic form filling data, cookies, cache, downloads, so that browser or user can retrieve them when needs.
Incognito or, in other words, the private mode (or private browsing mode) allows the user to browse the web without storing browsing data. Once the user closes the window the web browser in Incognito mode deletes cookies and keeps the browsing history empty. However, bookmarks and downloaded files are kept, and it does not hide user traffic from third parties like network admin, Internet Service Providers, or government. Almost all popular browsers have similar behavior in Incognito/private mode.
Benefits of the Incognito mode
There are several significant benefits in using the Incognito mode:
- Keep user data private – When using a public computer Incognito mode helps to prevent any other to see or use your data.
- Save money – to book hotels and air tickets Incognito mode is very helpful because it is well known that hotel and airline web sites use cookie data to find the travel dates and other information from the browser and to increase prices accordingly.
- To log into multiple accounts – Incognito mode is an entirely isolated session so that the user can access multiple accounts (like more than one Facebook accounts) at once.
Recommended reading: Tips for leaving no trace when using someone else’s computer
How to activate the Incognito mode
To start web browsing in incognito mode, Open the web browser, select File and then Choose a New Private Window or New Incognito Window (This name will be vary depending on the browser.)
Incognito Window – Keyboard shortcuts:
- Chrome: Control/⌘ + Shift + N
- Firefox: Control/⌘ + Shift + P
- Internet Explorer: Control + Shift + P
- Safari: ⌘ + Shift + N
To end the session user can simply close the window. Also, it is worth knowing that incognito mode can be set as default in your browser by changing the browser settings.
Is the Incognito mode really private?
When you open the Google Incognito, it states that
“Your activity might still be visible to:
Websites you visit, including the ads and resources used on those sites
Your employer, school, or whoever runs the network you’re using
Your internet service provider”
Apart from those if the user opens a Google app like Gmail, Chrome, they record your cookies and history just like in regular browsing. The below list shows the things that can be seen by other people although the user is in incognito mode.
ISP can see what a user is doing or where a user is going
Your ISP can see your internet traffic, can track the web sites you visit or files you download, can record online activities. And also it is complete transparency can be seen in illegally downloaded data when it is using incognito mode. Therefore, the ISP can even sell this data to a third party. Can you trust your ISP?
Network administrator/company admin
They can see what is going on although the user is in incognito mode. This is not only limited to the company machines but also they can monitor other devices of the user when it is using the company Wi-Fi. For example, when you are accessing a particular web site server in your office/school can see when this traffic comes from and to where it is going similar to the ISP.
Websites can recognize you
The user may feel anonymous when he is in the incognito mode. But still web sites can see when you are coming and how long you stay in the particular web sites and they can store and utilize those data for their advertising campaigns etc.
Incognito mode does not affect apps
Apps like Gmail can trace the user online activities although the user is in incognito mode. In simple words when it is running an app, there is no difference between incognito and regular browsing.
Parental control applications/ spyware applications and keyloggers
Private browsing or safe browsing does not protect the user against parental control type applications installed on the user computer which takes screenshots and monitors the web sites you access. Also, spyware applications that are running on the user computer can monitor the browsing activities.
Can my IP address be tracked while using the Incognito mode?
Incognito mode hides users browsing history but still your public IP address is visible to the web sites you access. Because incognito mode primarily uses to hide the browser history and it doesn’t have security features to prevent malicious attacks or attacks from retrieving your personal data.
A virtual private network (VPN) is the best method that is used to hide the personal IP address. Easy to use VPN apps are available. VPN servers act in between user devices and websites. So, when someone performs web browsing, downloading web sites cannot trace the private IP address and user locations. As an example, by using VPN services, everyone can access blocked web sites in a particular region.
Incognito/private mode is not a complex security feature. It can merely hide browsing history and delete cookies when the session is over. But still, ISPs, network administrators, websites can monitor what is going on and user behavior.
Despite that when someone logged to an app like Gmail, despite deleting the history, there is no difference between incognito and regular browsing.