How to go 'Incognito' on your web browser, and what it means

Just don’t confuse incognito mode with “true” privacy!

How to go 'Incognito' on your web browser, and what it means

Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera... these are just some of the web browsers available to today's internet users. While each browser might differ somewhat from their competitors, the major players in the web browsing game all come pre-equipped with a certain set of features.

Today I'm going to talk about one such property known as "incognito mode" (also sometimes known as "private browsing").

First of all, what is Incognito mode?

Incognito mode is a particular method of surfing the web via a web browser. It allows a user to hide their web activities from other users on a single, shared personal computer by automatically erasing their browsing/search history and by deleting all cookies at the end of each session.

Sounds interesting. Why would I want to use it?

IncognitoMany think incognito mode is useful only when it comes to helping users privately search for adult content online. But that couldn't be further from the truth.

There are plenty of practical, less potentially embarrassing reasons why you would want to use incognito mode. These include the following:

  1. Privacy on a public computer. Sometimes you might need to log into one of your web accounts from a computer at a library, cafe, or other public place. You don't want the browser to save any of your passwords, and you also don't want it to store any of your browsing history so that someone could come across the login page for your personal website. Browsing online via incognito mode will help protect your privacy by not storing any of these types of information.
  2. Multiple accounts. Many web services such as Google allow you to sign into only one registered account at a time. This might be inconvenient if someone maintains multiple Gmail accounts for personal use and work activities. To get around this obstacle, you can open two windows in your browser--one in normal mode, one in incognito mode--and sign in to access your different Gmail accounts at the same time.
  3. Outsmarting paywalls. We've all run into paywalls online. They're those nuisances hidden behind the firewalls of many news and blogging websites that notify us we've read the maximum number of articles for free in a given month. It doesn't take much to run out a paywall's limit. Fortunately, you can use incognito mode to visit a website an infinite number of times, as a website's paywall will think you're a new user whenever you initiate a new incognito session.

I'm in. How do I activate incognito mode on my web browser?

It's pretty easy. In most web browsers, click on "File" to display a drop-down menu of clickable options. You will have the ability to open up a new tab or a new window using that menu. You can also activate a browsing session in incognito mode.

For Google Chrome, this option is known as "New Incognito Window," whereas for Firefox, it's known as "New Private Window." Click on that feature, and when the new incognito window pops up, you can begin browsing in incognito mode to your heart's desire.

Firefox 20 private window update

Meanwhile, in Internet Explorer 8 or later you can access what Microsoft calls "InPrivate Browsing" under the Tools menu (or press Ctrl+Shift+P).

(NOTE: You can access incognito mode in major mobile web browser applications, as well. To turn on incognito browsing, simply visit your mobile browser's "Settings" page.)

Great! I can't wait to begin browsing the web with true privacy!

Whoa, hang on a minute! No one said anything about incognito mode guaranteeing true privacy.

Sure, incognito mode hides your Internet activities from other users on a shared computer, but it doesn't hide your search history from the rest of the world. Not even close! Websites can still capture your computer's identifying IP address, and internet service providers, malicious software and potentially intelligence agencies can track what you're doing online.

Incognitio old

To better protect your privacy, you should consider using your web browser in tandem with a virtual private network (VPN), which masks a user's location and IP address.

For added protection, you can dispense with your regular web browser and use the Tor web browser instead.

So all in all...

Incognito mode is a great way to hide your browsing history from local users, but it does not protect you from the rest of the internet spying on you.

What do you use incognito mode for? Let us know in the comments!

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