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Incognito Mode: A Placebo to Private Browsing

Today, a web browser's Incognito Mode is used almost religiously and users do not think twice about the risks involved and place inordinate trust into the application. But does the famous browser mode really live up to its name for privacy and reliability?

Back in December 2008, Google's released a new way of browsing: Incognito Mode, a privacy option for Chrome. The feature allows users to gain greater protection against overbearing browser-history snoops. This wasn't exactly the case.

What is Incognito Mode?

Incognito Mode, also known as Private Browsing, is an alternate version of a user's web browser that allows them to browse the web without storing any browsing data. This means that any data that they've put in during their usage––browsing history, login credentials and cookies––will not be remembered so they will not be able to access them later on.

However, this does not mean a user's online actions are necessarily invisible to lurkers and those who are trying to access data. Browsing an unsecure site, such as those without an "https", people who are on the same network as you could peek at what you're doing, and see the sites you're seeing.

Incognito Mode is not designed to protect your privacy

If your primary goal in browsing is to remain anonymous and sure that others wouldn't be able to know your browsing data, Incognito Mode is unfortunately not the right tool. In fact, Darin Fisher, Google's Vice President of Chrome, explained in an interview that the Chrome team intentionally steered away from including the word "privacy" in the mode's name, because they did not want to oversell its ability.

How to Correctly 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.

  1. Many users today turn to Firefox, a good mainstream browser known for its trustworthy security and privacy. However, it is still not specially built for secure browsing.

  2. Brave browser, a rising competitor to modern browser giants, blocks ads and website trackers, and proposes adopting a pay-to-surf business model in the future.

  3. Iridium browser, where transmission of any partial queries, keywords and metrics to central services only occurs with the approval of the user.

  4. 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

  5. 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, such as Google Chrome, 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 real 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.

Shortcuts to Incognito Mode

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

Deactivating Incognito Mode is simple––simply closing the private browser will then immediately delete your local browsing history and data.

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