What is Incognito Mode [+ Which Browser Offers the Most Privacy in 2022]

You’re a hot property online these days!

All manner of agents, trackers, snoops, and hacks stalk your every move. Even now, they’re crouching in the virtual bushes, ready to snap up any personal details you may let slip as you go about your day.

Maybe you’re not entirely oblivious to these threats… Perhaps you’re keeping a low profile in Incognito mode. That’s about as effective as throwing on a fedora and oversized shades to sneak into Target. We see you, Britney!

Incognito or private browsing mode can only give you a false sense of security. They don’t disguise your digital identity nearly as well as you might hope.

In this article, I’ll shine a light on some common Incognito mode myths. I’ll show you what Incognito modes can and can’t do, and which popular browser offers the most private of private modes. Finally, you’ll get my top tip for how to properly go incognito, now that you’re the hot target!

What’s an Incognito Browser?

Chrome Incognito start page
                     

Browsers enable you to access information from the internet on your device. They can also save information about you if you’ve enabled autofill. They remember your browser and search history, name, address, phone number, and passwords.

Today, most popular browsers offer a private mode feature. Chrome calls it “Incognito” mode. Safari, Mozilla, and Opera call theirs “Private Browsing”, while Microsoft calls it “InPrivate”.

All of these private modes allow you to surf the internet with some degree of anonymity. They let you browse websites privately and erase your search history, temporary cookies, and auto-saved form data like passwords or credit card numbers once you close the session.

Why Use an Incognito Browser?

Incognito mode makes it easier to share a computer without accidentally sharing your private login details or browsing habits. That’s great at the office or at home, where you might not want your colleagues, kids, or partner to know everything you’ve been looking up online.

Targeted ads popping up after a little gift search would ruin that birthday surprise, for one thing. I’m sure you can imagine some other awkward conversations that private browsing could help you avoid.

These days, you have plenty of wholesome excuses to use private mode. It’s useful when you’re at a station in an internet cafe. A private window ensures that autofill won’t disclose your login credentials to the next person to use the machine. It also logs you out of all your accounts, so the next guy doesn’t find himself scrolling through your Facebook feed.

In Incognito mode, you can also sign in to multiple accounts simultaneously. You could open an Incognito window to log in to your work Gmail account without having to sign out of your personal account. The same applies to other accounts like social media. That means you could update your business’s Twitter without having to log out of your personal account.

How to Enable Private Mode

It’s really simple to turn on private mode in most browsers. That’s why it’s become a knee-jerk security measure for many people. Simply click on the menu on the upper right–the three vertical dots–and select New Incognito Window.

You could also try these handy keyboard shortcuts:

Chrome Incognito in Windows Control + Shift + N
Chrome Incognito on a Mac Command + Shift + N
Microsoft Edge’s InPrivate mode Control + Shift + P
Firefox Private Browser Control + Shift + N
Safari Private Browser Control + Shift + N
Opera Private Browser in Windows & Linux Control + Shift + N
Opera Private Browser on a Mac Command + Shift + N

How Does Incognito Mode Work?

When you browse normally, your browser logs every page you visit and saves these URLs even after closing the window.

Your browser also stores cookies–tiny text files that contain your login details and information about the pages you visit. Cookies help to tailor ads and pages to your online profile.

In Incognito mode, the browser doesn’t save your URLs after closing the window. It also blocks and deletes any cookies or form data from that session. That means your browser forgets whatever you do in private mode. Yet, any new bookmarks, downloads, favorites, and collections remain on the device.

Incognito mode is a good first step toward protecting your privacy, but it’s not nearly enough.

Can You be Tracked in Private Mode?

Incognito mode still leaves your IP address exposed for all to see. That means anyone can link your browsing activities back to you. Your ISP, employer, government agencies, and all the websites you visit, can still track you in private mode.

Take a look at this for a more detailed look at who’s tracking you in private mode.

Who’s Tracking You in Private Mode?

ISPs: ISP can and happily do track you as your data is a valuable commodity to sell to marketers. ISPs may also hand your data over to the authorities.

Wi-Fi Routers: Free Wi-Fi zones can track all your activities through their router and make money off it.

Network Admins: IT people at schools and businesses can keep tabs on your activity during work hours.

Websites: Sites can track your every move when you log in. Advertisers join in the fun. Third-party cookies that track you from site to site make this even easier.

Search Engines: Your search engine monitors every keystroke to serve you targeted results and ads.

Email providers: If you’re logged into your Google or Microsoft account, all your search and other data are linked to build a profile of you.

Mobile Carrier: Your phone company is recording your activity much like an ISP, but they have the added advantage of knowing your current location at all times.

Apps: Apps track you to learn about your behavior and preferences for marketing purposes.

Government Agencies: Surveillance agencies install spyware and can demand your service providers, (email provider, ISP, or Cloud provider) hand over your data.

Cybercriminals: Incognito mode does nothing to stop the man in the middle from pouncing on your data as it moves over the open network.

What private browsing DOES What private browsing DOESN’T DO
✅Deletes your browsing data when you close the private window. That includes cookies, browsing history, and any info entered into forms 🗙Hide your browsing history from the sites you visit, your school, employer, ISP, or other third parties
✅Saves collections, favorites, and downloads 🗙Protect you from ad tracking by default
✅Prevents searches from being linked to you 🗙Hide your IP address
🗙Protect you from phishing attacks, malware, and viruses

Which Browser Offers the Most Privacy

Can you rely on a mainstream browser like Google or Microsoft Bing’s private mode or should you go for a privacy-focussed browser like Brave or Tor? Here’s the lowdown, with 8 popular browsers ranked from worst to best.

1. Chrome Incognito Mode–The Worst

Many experts believe Chrome is nothing but spyware for Google, even in Incognito mode. Chrome offers the same basic functionality as Microsoft Edge, Safari, Firefox, and other mainstream private browsers. When you close all private windows, it deletes your browsing history, cookies, site data, passwords, addresses, and form data. It also disables extensions and toolbars.

When you open an Incognito window, Chrome clearly discloses that your browsing activity might still be visible to websites you visit, your employer, school, and ISP. Incognito doesn’t provide any protection against cybercriminals or government surveillance.

2. Microsoft Edge InPrivate Mode

Edge lets you set your preferred “Tracking Prevention” level in your browser settings. You can enable “Send “Do Not Track” requests” in standard and InPrivate modes. You can also see how many trackers it has blocked. My only criticism is that Edge isn’t as snappy at loading pages as Chrome.

Microsoft Edge's privacy settings

3. Safari Private Mode

Safari offers Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP), which blocks all third-party cookies.

Unlike Chrome, Microsoft Edge and Firefox (which disable extensions by default in private mode), in Safari you have to manually select “disable extensions” from the drop down menu in your browser preferences.

While some browser extensions can extend your privacy–1Blocker, for example, blocks many trackers–other extensions can spell a privacy disaster. They can monitor everything you do online: capture your passwords, track your web browsing, and insert ads into web pages you visit. Cybercriminals can even use browser extensions to deploy malware!

On the plus side, Safari features a built-in Privacy Monitor that provides an unsettling picture of just how many trackers attempt to follow you around every day.

Apple has also recently introduced Private Relay, now in Beta. Private Relay is a unique feature that, similar to a VPN, allows you to hide your IP address when browsing with Safari. We’ll have to wait and see how this enhances the privacy of Safari users as the technology becomes more readily available.

4. Opera Private Mode

Opera’s private mode provides similar protection to all the above, including optional ad-blocking and tracking protection and a free VPN. Opera supports browser tools, which is worrying as it means it shares your data with third parties. A Chinese corporation recently purchased Opera, which makes you question its commitment to privacy.

5. Mozilla Firefox Private Mode

Firefox’s non-profit, open-source nature means it’s more transparent and has less motive to track your activity. Firefox also offers optional tracking protection in normal and private modes. That means third parties can’t gather your browsing history. Private Browsing sessions default to the more secure HTTPS, not HTTP.

Yet, Firefox loses some points because it’s incredibly easy to recover closed browsers in Private mode. If you forget to close a private browsing tab, the next person can restore all your closed tabs and see what you were doing online. That defeats the purpose!

6. Brave Browser

You could ditch the dominant players and switch to a privacy-first browser like Brave. Brave is a free, popular, open-source, privacy-focused browser known for online privacy and safety.

Unlike Chrome and Safari, Brave removes all digital ads from the sites you visit. That frees up your data to give you amazing speeds. Brave browser also uses HTTPS secure connections, doesn’t collect or sell your data, and automatically blocks ad trackers. It also shows you how many trackers it has blocked.

The problem is Brave replaces other publishers’ ads with its own ad network. While you can earn BAT cryptocurrency rewards for viewing these ads, it’s still a privacy intrusion in my books.

7. Tor Browser

Finally, we have the activist’s favorite, Tor browser. Tor encrypts your browsing data to shield it against all online surveillance. It also sends it through a series of remote servers run by a global army of privacy enthusiasts. That way, Tor hides your IP address and prevents any third parties from linking your browsing activities back to you.

When Tor changes your IP, it changes your location so you can access blocked websites anywhere. Yet, Tor slows down your connection by a lot when it routes your data through so many relays. That makes streaming videos a challenge.

The other problem with Tor is that some ISPs penalize you and cut your connection if you use it. Finally, Tor can only encrypt your browser activity, not other personal data. For that, you need a VPN.

8. CyberGhost Private Browser – The Best

We can’t discuss private browsers without mentioning CyberGhost Private Browser, our free chromium-based web browser. Like Brave, CyberGhost Private Browser lets you browse entirely ad-free, so you get a boost in page-loading speed.

It also goes further than any other private browser to protect you from all online surveillance. It has zero integration with Google, allowing you to avoid Google’s data collection altogether. CyberGhost Private Browser also works well with search engines like DuckDuckGo, Google, Bing, and Yahoo. It supports all the add-ons available on the Google Store. The best part? It’s free!

The table below should give you an at-a-glance comparison view of the browsers I’ve mentioned, feature by feature.

Chrome Incognito mode Microsoft Edge “InPrivate browsing” mode Mozilla Firefox “Private Browsing” mode Apple Safari ‘Private” window Opera Private Browsing mode Brave Browser Tor Private browser CyberGhost Private Browser
Deletes cookies ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️

✔️ ✔️
Deletes form data ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️

✔️ ✔️
Deletes cache ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️

✔️
Deletes browsing history ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️

✔️ ✔️
Deletes search history ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️ ✔️
Recovers closed tabs

✔️

✔️

Disables extensions ✔️ ✔️ ✔️

✔️

✔️ ✔️
Blocks trackers and ads Some (by default) Some (by default) Many (by default) Some (by default) Optional ✔️

✔️
VPN Encryption

Optional Optional with Brave VPN

Built-in Privacy monitor

✔️

✔️

✔️

From my analysis, I’d say you’re better off using either Brave, Tor, or the CyberGhost Private Browser. They’ll give you anonymous, ad-free, tracker-free browsing right out of the box.

If you have to use one of the mainstream browsers, Firefox is your best bet. It gives you greater transparency, and you’re less likely to become the product. If you’re stuck with either Chrome, Edge, Safari, or Opera, you need to keep your eyes wide open. Their definition of private is highly debatable.

See our lineup of the best private browsers for a more in-depth analysis on this topic.

How Do I Really Use the Internet Privately?

If Incognito won’t do a proper job of protecting your privacy, what will?

Here it is, my top tip to take your security and privacy to new levels: You need a VPN.

Ghostie protecting user data with an encryption shield.A VPN does much more than a private browser to wipe your digital footprints. Not just your browsing history saved on your device, but everywhere else on the web. That includes your device IDs, IP address, geographic location, search history, everything! That’s because a VPN encrypts your data from the moment it leaves your device, so from there, it’s just an incomprehensible jumble to anyone peeking in.

A VPN also masks your IP address. That fools third parties into thinking your data comes from somewhere else entirely. Use a VPN in combination with one of the private browsers mentioned above if you’re serious about online privacy.

Get CyberGhost VPN and hide all your online activity from ISPs, your boss, cybercriminals, governments, and anyone else lurking in the cyber bushes.

Why Choose CyberGhost VPN

Powerful Encryption

Unlike a private browser, CyberGhost VPN uses bank-grade AES-256 encryption to hide your online activity from your ISP, search engine, Wi-Fi router, proxy servers, surveillance agencies, and cybercriminals.

Servers Worldwide

When you connect to one of our 7200+ servers in 90 countries, we replace your real IP address with one of our own so no one can link your online activities back to you. Take advantage of servers optimized for fast, safe, and anonymous torrenting and our NoSpy servers for maximum security while banking.

Surveillance-Free Zone

We also follow a strict No-Logs policy. That means we don’t track or store your data, which means if the authorities were to demand your data, we would have nothing to give them. We’re also based in Romania, outside any Eyes alliances, which means the authorities can’t force us to hand over your data.

A VPN for Every Device

Whether you’re browsing on an iOS, Android, Windows, or macOS device, we have the VPN app you need. You can even protect all your devices at once with CyberGhost VPN on your router. You’ll have VPN connections to spare, as a single CyberGhost subscription gives you protection on up to 7 devices simultaneously.

Uncapped Data

We give you unlimited bandwidth when you connect to our ultra-fast servers, so you never need to worry about throttling, server congestion, buffering, or lagging.

We give you a free private browser, automatic Wi-Fi protection, a Kill Switch if the VPN connection ever fails, and so much more.

Download CyberGhost VPN today and find out why millions of people trust us to protect their privacy.

Interested in picking up more privacy tips from those for whom privacy really matters? Check our Activist’s Guide to Online Privacy.

FAQ

What is Incognito mode used for?

Incognito mode allows you to share a computer or phone without sharing your browsing history or account logins. That makes it useful in public places where strangers share devices or at home when you don’t want your beloved knowing what you’ve been looking up online. It also allows you to log in to multiple accounts on one device.

Is incognito really safe?

Not really. Private browsing mode doesn’t hide your IP address, so your ISP, the government, the Wi-Fi admin, search engines, and browsers can still track you.

An Incognito browsing window doesn’t do more than delete your browsing history and any cookies once you close the window. If you want to make it impossible for anyone to track your online activities, buy CyberGhost VPN.

Give our powerful VPN a try, risk-free. You have more than a month to decide if we’re the right solution for you with our 45-day money-back guarantee.

What happens when you’re in incognito mode?

Once you close the browser in Incognito mode, Chrome doesn’t save your browser history, or any data you type into web forms.

That said, Chrome doesn’t hide your IP address or encrypt your traffic. That means your ISP, employer, government agencies, and the websites you visit can still link your browsing activities back to you. You need a VPN if you want to go fully incognito.

CyberGhost VPN is the ultimate privacy guard. We hide your IP address when you’re connected to our high-speed server network and conceal your traffic with AES-256-bit encryption. That way, you can avoid surveillance altogether and unblock sites worldwide. You’ll also enjoy unlimited bandwidth, and automatic Wi-FI protection on up to 7 devices simultaneously.

Can Google track me if I use a VPN?

Yes, Google can still track your activity and use it to create a profile on you to serve you personalized results and ads. Even if you connect to a VPN, Google can still see your browsing history if you’re logged into your Google account.

To stay out of Google’s sights, log out of your Gmail account, clear your cache, delete your cookies, and switch to a safer browser like CyberGhost’s free Private Browser. That’ll hide your browsing activity, keep you safe from Google’s all-seeing eye, and allow you to enjoy a faster, ad-free internet.

Need help using CyberGhost Private Browser? Reach out to our friendly customer support team. They’re available 24/7 via email or live chat.

Leave a comment

I think your general comment about disabling browser extensions in Safari is not quite correct. There are a lot of tracking blockers as extensions for Safari like 1Blocker. Of course these extensions should not be automatically disabled in private mode. You also forgot to mention Private Relay, the unique feature of Safari to hide the IP address.

Reply

Hello gewappnet,

Thanks for taking the time to comment. According to the author:

“I stand by my statement that, unlike Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft, Safari doesn’t disable extensions (at least by default) in private mode.

It is true that this can be remedied by manually tweaking the preferences, perhaps this is not so much an oversight by Apple as a consideration for useful extensions, such as the 1Blocker extension you cited.

PrivateRelay, Apple’s shiny new pseudo-VPN service for iOS 15 is certainly worth a mention. Although still in Beta, it seems like a great addition to Apple’s privacy toolkit, hiding your IP address and browsing activity in Safari. Unfortunately it’s not available in my region or I’d definitely give it a try.

It’s worth noting that, unlike a real VPN, Private Relay will only shield Safari traffic, and not system-wide traffic. It will also not allow you to choose your own location to access content from around the world. Apple is clearly taking note of their users’ increasing appetite for privacy.”

Take care and stay safe,

Write a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*