What Is Incognito Browsing and Is It Really Private?

Incognito mode is a private window within your web browser where you can surf the web without your history being saved to your device. There are many misconceptions about incognito browsing, perhaps due to the name. Contrary to what a lot of people believe, even in incognito mode, companies can still track the websites you visit and your search history. 

This leads to the question: What exactly is incognito browsing? And is it safe? A survey from Elie.net shows that around 40% of internet users do not know what private browsing is, and of those that do, only around a third actually use it. This guide aims to demystify incognito browsing so you can know exactly how much of your information it protects from prying eyes, and how much it shares.

What Does Incognito Mode Do?

Incognito mode is designed to allow you to use the internet as though you were a new visitor to any of the sites you visit. Every website you visit will treat you as if you have never visited it before, even if you have. This means your login information is not saved within the website.

This is possible because incognito mode allows you to browse the web without picking up cookies. This means you will not get a personalised experience (autofilled forms, targeted ads, etc) but this also ensures that high-value items will not increase in price the more you search for them. 

Be aware that your browser will often treat multiple incognito windows as belonging to the same session rather than starting a second session. 

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How Do I Go Incognito?

This depends on the browser you are using. Most of them give you the option when you open a new tab, but various browsers have shortcuts. For example:

  • Microsoft Edge will open an incognito window if you press Ctrl+Shift+P. 
  • Chrome will open an incognito window if you press Ctrl + Shift + n.

Keep an eye out for a little icon of a secret agent. Many browsers use this as a shorthand for incognito mode. They are often represented by a trench coat, glasses, or hat. 

What Does Incognito Mode Hide?

Incognito mode stops the following things from being recorded and saved on your device:

  • Browsing history
  • Search history
  • Cookies

However, just because this information is not being saved to your device, this does not mean that they are being hidden. 

Why Do People Use Incognito Mode?

People can use incognito mode for any reason, but some common ones include wanting to avoid targeted advertising, or simply just not wanting embarrassing predictive results to appear in their search bar. 

Does Incognito Mode Hide IP Addresses?

No. Incognito mode does not hide your IP address. It only hides your browsing history from anyone using your device, which can be useful for people sharing a device with others. However, it does not hide your search history or online activity from people using the same network as you (for example, people using the same WiFi as you).

 If you want to hide your online activity for other users on your network, you need to use a VPN. A VPN will encrypt your device information and data before you connect to your local network. It also helps you to get around content blocks, which incognito mode cannot do. 

Can People See My Internet History if I Use Incognito Mode?

People who use your own device cannot see your history if you use incognito mode, but some other people can. These include:

  • Websites you sign into
  • Your network administrator 
  • Search engines 
  • Your internet service provider

This means if you use your incognito mode at school or at work, the administrator can see every site you visit. With a personal VPN, they will not be able to see this, but check first whether this is allowed by your school or workplace.

What Are Some Benefits of Incognito Mode?

Incognito mode allows you to surf the internet without saving this data to your personal device. There are several benefits to this. If you are sharing a device, this gives you some degree of privacy. It also allows you to browse products you do not want to see targeted ads for in the future, and prevents your search bar from remembering and displaying the things you searched for while in incognito mode. 

Do I Need to Use Incognito Mode if I Have a VPN?

This depends on why you want to use it. If you use a VPN, your online activity will be hidden from people using other devices on your network, but not from people using the same device as you.

This means that opening an incognito tab while using a VPN adds an extra layer of protection. If you are sharing your device – for example a home computer – you may still benefit from using incognito browsing, even with a VPN. 

Is Incognito Mode Safe?

Using incognito mode does not pose additional risks, but it also does not provide the protection that a lot of people think it does. As long as you are informed, you can safely use incognito mode.