How to go incognito and keep your browsing private

Most people are aware that their internet browser keeps a record of every site they visit. Normally, this isn’t an issue, but if multiple people share an account, it can lead to embarrassing moments. The URL bar can suggest websites that another user has visited or reveal sensitive search topics. If one user logs into their accounts, then cookies stored in their browser could leave the door open for other users to access those accounts. Luckily, every major browser has a way to prevent these privacy infractions from happening: Google Chrome has Incognito mode, Firefox has private tabs, and Edge has InPrivate windows.

This post will explain how to take advantage of these features and let you know how much privacy they actually provide. We’ll also recommend other methods for keeping your browsing history secure so that you don’t always have to rely on Incognito mode.

First things first: what is Incognito mode?

Normally, your browser stores all kinds of important information in small files called cookies. These save your login session so you don’t have to type in your password every time you visit a website, among other information. When used properly, they make it much more convenient to browse the internet. Unfortunately, some sites use cookies to track your activities or record details about your device.

Incognito mode starts a new browsing session, deleting all of these cookies and your browsing history when you’re done. This prevents visited websites from showing up in the URL bar, autocomplete results, or account history and means that you won’t be shown ads based on your private activities.

Google gives the example of shopping for a birthday present – you wouldn’t want the recipient (who has access to the same computer) to see what you’ve been buying, so using Incognito mode would be a wise choice.

How to use Incognito mode on Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Safari

It’s actually quite easy to open up a private tab once you know how. Just find your preferred browser in the list below and follow the steps to get started:

  • Google Chrome: Open the menu by clicking the three dots in the top-right. Now, pick the New Incognito window option. You can also try pressing Control, Shift, and N simultaneously.
  • Mozilla Firefox: Click the three lines in the top-right and select New private window. Alternatively, press the Control, Shift, and P keys at the same time
  • Microsoft Edge: Open the menu in the top-right and choose New InPrivate window. Just like with Chrome, the shortcut is Ctrl+Shift+N.
  • Safari: Click File then New Private Window. A quicker way to do this to to hit the Shift, ⌘, and N keys at the same time.
  • Brave: Hit the three lines below the close button to open the menu. Now, just pick New Private Window. Once again, the keyboard shortcut is Ctrl+Shift+N
  • Opera: Either hit the Control, Shift, and N keys simultaneously or navigate to File > New Private Window

How private is Incognito mode?

If your main goal is to keep your online activities hidden from other people who use your account, Incognito mode can help. However, it doesn’t offer complete anonymity or privacy. Anyone who knows where to look can find details of what you get up to in private tabs, which is why it’s so important to clear your Incognito mode history regularly.

This feature also doesn’t help shield your activities from the sites you visit or anyone who’s monitoring your network. For instance, your employer could still see what you’re getting up to during your lunch break, your ISP can see what sites you visit, and sites like Facebook will be able to find your real location.

Is there an easy way to hide my browsing habits on a shared PC?

The simplest solution is to give everyone who uses the computer their own user account. This is far better for privacy since it means that nobody else has access to your files unless you choose to share them, and other users can’t go snooping around in the settings to see saved passwords, browsing history, or synced tabs that are open on your other devices.

On the other hand, if your goal is to prevent whoever owns the network from monitoring your activities, you’ll need a Virtual Private Network (VPN). These services encrypt your data, rendering it unreadable to network administrators, hotspot owners, and even repressive governments. They’ll also hide your true location from the sites you visit and bypass any web-filtering software that the network uses to block access to certain content.


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Incognito mode: Frequently Asked Questions

Does Chrome’s Incognito mode hide your IP address?

No, private tabs don’t change or obscure your IP address in any way. As such, sites like Facebook will be able to tell where you’re browsing from, who your service provider is, and whether you’ve logged in from the same location before. As such, Incognito mode can’t help you beat a Discord ban or access geo-blocked streaming platforms like Disney+ while traveling.

There are a few ways to change your IP address, but we’d recommend using a reputable VPN provider like NordVPN, Surfshark, or ExpressVPN. These not only provide you a new IP address, preventing you from seeing targeted ads, but also ensure your activities can’t be read by anyone, even if they have full control over the network you’re using. For the highest level of privacy, just activate your VPN, turn on Incognito mode, and visit whatever site you like.

Can Incognito mode be tracked?

Absolutely. Your operating system and router both record every site visited, even if you open them in a private tab. Incognito mode is primarily intended to help hide your activities from other users on the same device and account, and doesn’t provide much privacy beyond that. The good news is that tons of free browser extensions are designed to limit the amount of data sites can collect about you. Alternatively, you can install privacy-focused software like Tor for even greater online anonymity.

Should I always use Incognito mode?

There’s really no reason to rely on Incognito mode for everyday browsing. While this would prevent any of your activities from showing up in the address bar or history, it’d also mean that you’d have to log into websites every time you visit them and wouldn’t be able to find commonly-accessed sites in the URL bar or new tab page.

Do I really need Incognito mode?

If you’re the only person who has access to your account, Incognito’s main advantage is that it prevents advertisers from linking your private activities with your main profile. In other words, you won’t start seeing ads for wedding rings on your favorite sites after doing some research in Incognito mode. Of course, you can sidestep this issue entirely by installing an ad-blocker.

If multiple people all share a single account, however, Incognito mode is extremely helpful. After all, there are certain online activities you might not want your family to know about, and Incognito mode will help out in this regard. Even if you close the window, old tabs can be revealed by simply pressing Control, Shift, and T at the same time, so it’s actually safer and less work to just use a private tab instead.