Privacy has become one of the most treasured aspects of our lives, and even more important to many now that we’re online. Many don’t consider, however, that everything we do online is tracked, recorded or analyzed - sometimes we do give consent to this, otherwise we don’t really consider it. This has also given reason to the need and want of better online privacy. So, there have been developed tools and features that help us with that.
One of the more popular tools among users is the incognito search mode that most browsers offer. We have a blog post on how it works and how to enable it in your browser, but now we’ll take a further look into what it is and the pros and cons of the mysterious incognito mode.
What is incognito mode?
Incognito mode, also known as private browsing or privacy mode, was first introduced by Google in 2008 with the release of Chrome browser. Since then, it has become a standard feature in most web browsers, including Firefox, Safari, and Microsoft Edge.
The primary purpose of incognito mode is to allow users to browse the web without storing local data such as browsing history, search history, cookies, and site data. While this sounds like a panacea for online privacy concerns, it's essential to understand the nuances and limitations of this mode.
How incognito search works
The incognito mode is a feature that most web browsers offer their users. It allows them to browse the internet without the browser storing or collecting data, search history, cookies and site data.
When you use the incognito mode in your browser, you make a temporary session that is isolated and separated from your normal browsing sessions. Once this is activated, the browser doesn’t store information about:
- The website you visit
- The things you search
- The data you enter into different forms
Beside the aforementioned, incognito also ensures that cookies, that are the small files that websites store, aren’t stored at all. Cookies usually contain information about your session on the specific website, your preferences and login status. When you use incognito, cookies will thus not be stored.
The same goes for the cached files that are temporarily files stored on your device to speed up loading time. Incognito ensures that there are no traces of your browsing history stored on the device.
Lastly, incognito mode also ensures that anything you search for, with a search engine, remains private and not stored in the browser. The search terms and results will remain unsaved and you won’t be able to find your search history again. You can use incognito mode for doing research or look something up that you don’t want others to know about.
This prevents other users from seeing your activity if they use the same device, but it doesn’t make you entirely invisible.
What incognito search doesn't do
Even though it sounds great with an entirely private browsing experience, it’s not entirely true. You can never stay completely anonymous online, as websites and your internet service provider (ISP) can still see your internet activity as you’re using a website. Likewise, if you log into accounts that e.g. need authentication, these activities can still be tracked.
Other things that incognito mode doesn’t do are:
Secure your connection: Incognito mode doesn’t encrypt your internet connection. If you're for instance connected to a public Wi-Fi, your data can still be infected and compromised by hackers.
Protect you from malware: Incognito mode doesn't provide any additional protection against malware or phishing attempts.
What can you use incognito mode for?
It might sound like incognito mode doesn’t really pose the best advantage, but there are some things you can use the anonymous internet browser for:
If you're using a public computer or if you share a device between several people, incognito mode can be a very good tool to avoid your browsing history and login data to be involuntarily shared or saved.
If you're planning a surprise gift or a trip, it can be helpful to use incognito mode. This way you prevent any targeted ads to pop up, or any searches or browsing history to give you away.
You can avoid using the autofill forms if you use incognito mode - it will not save your data which can be pretty useful in certain situations.
Improving your online privacy
While incognito mode is a good start if you want to improve your online privacy, there are a few other things you can do to improve your privacy:
Use a VPN: A VPN (or, Virtual Private Network) hides your IP addresses and encrypts your internet connection, which thus makes your online activities a lot more private.
Privacy-Focused Search Engines: You can consider using a search engine that focuses on keeping the user’s privacy at a top priority. They furthermore don't store personal data for advertising purposes etc.
Clear caches and cookies: Even when you use incognito mode, it’s always a good idea to clear your caches and cookies on a regular basis - this minimizes the risk of being tracked online.
Be cautious of add-ons and extensions: Usually it’s safe to use any add-ons or browser extensions, however, it is a thing you should use with care. They can compromise your privacy so you should only install add-ons from trusted developers.
Know your visibility
Incognito mode is a very valuable feature to those that don’t want to risk their online privacy - it is, however, not as functional as some people might want it to be. It’s thus important to know its limitations before venturing into something where you think your privacy is safe.
When you know its limitations you can improve your online privacy in other ways, like using a VPN or clearing your caches. We’re living in a time where our every move online is tracked, both for a better user experience, but they can, in the worst case, also be tracked by malicious actors. You should thus consider which websites you use and improve your security around your passwords and consider which search engines you use.
So, the next time you explore the depths of the internet, know that even though you’re incognito, you’re not fully invisible.
Caroline is a copywriter here at Moxso beside her education. She is doing her Master's in English and specializes in translation and the psychology of language. Both fields deal with communication between people and how to create a common understanding - these elements are incorporated into the copywriting work she does here at Moxso.View all posts by Caroline Preisler