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Why browse in private: Incognito and InPrivate modes

Authored by:
Support.com Tech Pro Team
This Guided Path® was written and reviewed by Support.com’s Tech Pro team. With decades of experience, our Tech Pros are passionate about making technology work for you. We love feedback! Let us know what you think about this Guided Path by rating it at the end.

Incognito home screen

Most Internet browsers come with private browsing capabilities. Depending on the firm, private mode goes by different names. For example, Google Chrome calls it Incognito to avoid overselling the feature’s capability. In Internet Explorer, it’s known as InPrivate mode, while Firefox calls it Private Browsing. Whichever one you use, it functions pretty much the same way.

With Incognito or private mode, your browsing history and other private data get automatically erased when you close your browser, protecting you against privacy intrusion, especially if you share a device with other people. There are many other uses of private browsing which we’ll get into later in this post.

Keep in mind that private browsing alone does not guarantee complete anonymity or protection against data breach; it can, however, keep your browsing activities somewhat secret while using an Internet cafe or shared devices as well as out of the reach of online marketing networks.

How Private Browsing Works

Most web browsers store users’ data and history logs as well as frequently access images to enhance the browsing experience. Every time you enter a new user name, password or visit a website multiple times, your browser saves data that generally make your internet experience faster and smoother. That can be convenient for most users, but sometimes that convenience comes at the expense of privacy, especially when that data is used by online marketing networks to serve targeted ads.

Private browsers attempt to solve this problem by eliminating browsing histories and the cookies that make it possible the website to know who you are and for ad networks to track you across different sites. Here’s how it works: when you visit a site, your browser stores your history and downloads one or more cookies. Cookies are just little bits of text. It can help a website remember you were there and customize the site to your preferences. On a commerce site, a cookie can be used to restore items you had placed in your shopping cart but had not yet purchased. A cookie can also be used to track other sites you visit on the internet and target content based on your behavior. Now cookies don’t store your name or truly know it’s you. Instead they store a unique ID that can be matched to activity or to your account on sites where you have created one.

With private browsing, your search history, logins, and web visits are automatically deleted after you exit the browser. Private mode also makes it harder for websites to track or monitor your online activities. Browsers such as Brave and Opera can even hide or spoof your location, making it difficult for websites to determine where you reside.

Why Use A Private Browser?

If you share a computer with other people and you don’t want them to keep tabs on your browsing activity, open a private browsing session. If you’re researching a surprise vacation for your partner and you don’t want them looking through your browsing history and finding out about it, use private mode. If you want to make it difficult for websites to track and collect data about you, incognito or private mode can help you achieve this. Here is a little more detail about the benefits of going “incognito", including:

  • Limit web tracking: most websites track users’ browsing activities. This is done mostly to understand product preferences and to better tailor ads and content to users.
  • Eliminate cookies: The two largest ad networks are Google and Facebook. These companies and their affiliates use cookies to customize ads for you. If you’ve been wondering why that car you searched for a while back is following you around on the web, it’s because cookies are at work. Websites insert small data files called cookies to your web browser during your first visit. This helps them track your online behavior and deliver targeted ads to you.

Generally, cookies are used to customize information, keep track of shopping activities, monitor logins and protect accounts against security breaches. Nevertheless, third party cookies, such as Facebook Pixel, are used by companies to serve ads to users.

It works this way: when you click on a website or a product page, a cookie will be placed on your browser by the advertiser. That cookie contains a unique user identifier to monitor how you navigate the website, what page or product you click on, how often you visit, and even your location. This information is stored in a remote server, allowing advertisers to deliver personalized ads to you. Social media works in a similar way.

A site like Facebook, for instance, has the ability to track every click, comment, post, and the profile you viewed, as well as other sites you visit and even your physical location if you are using their mobile application. Things can go wrong if that data gets into the wrong hands as it did in 2018 when Cambridge Analytica accessed the personal data of 87 million Facebook users without their consent and used it to influence their political position. For others, the idea of their every online action being tracked is just creepy.

With private browsing, your cookie data gets erased the moment you exit the browser and some private browsers block tracking cookies altogether. Lastly, private browsers won’t remember your log information and most of the things you do online, though some data may be retained or stored by your browser.

What Private Mode Is Not

Private mode is great at keeping local browsing private. If you want to look up a medical condition and ensure you won’t be followed by ads for cures, private browsing is great. But it won’t prevent your Internet Service Provider (ISP), your employer if you are browsing from work, or law enforcement from seeing or accessing your browsing histories. It also does not protect you against viruses and malware. Lastly, for sites where you enjoy the convenience of being remembered and automatically signed-in when you arrive, you need those cookies that standard browsing supports. If you visit that site from a private browsing window, you will need to sign in to access your account each time you visit. Further, once signed in, that site will know who you are and all your activity on their website.

Summary

Private browsing is a perfect option to protect your privacy from others, such as family members, who may have accessed your computer. It will also prevent unwanted ads following you around the internet or unwanted recommended products from popping up on retails sites as long as you are not logged into those sites.

Private browsing does not truly make you anonymous on the internet but it does provide a measure of privacy, limits the data shared with ad networks, and may just make you feel better knowing you are not being tracked.

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Incognito home screen

Most Internet browsers come with private browsing capabilities. Depending on the firm, private mode goes by different names. For example, Google Chrome calls it Incognito to avoid overselling the feature’s capability. In Internet Explorer, it’s known as InPrivate mode, while Firefox calls it Private Browsing. Whichever one you use, it functions pretty much the same way.

With Incognito or private mode, your browsing history and other private data get automatically erased when you close your browser, protecting you against privacy intrusion, especially if you share a device with other people. There are many other uses of private browsing which we’ll get into later in this post.

Keep in mind that private browsing alone does not guarantee complete anonymity or protection against data breach; it can, however, keep your browsing activities somewhat secret while using an Internet cafe or shared devices as well as out of the reach of online marketing networks.

How Private Browsing Works

Most web browsers store users’ data and history logs as well as frequently access images to enhance the browsing experience. Every time you enter a new user name, password or visit a website multiple times, your browser saves data that generally make your internet experience faster and smoother. That can be convenient for most users, but sometimes that convenience comes at the expense of privacy, especially when that data is used by online marketing networks to serve targeted ads.

Private browsers attempt to solve this problem by eliminating browsing histories and the cookies that make it possible the website to know who you are and for ad networks to track you across different sites. Here’s how it works: when you visit a site, your browser stores your history and downloads one or more cookies. Cookies are just little bits of text. It can help a website remember you were there and customize the site to your preferences. On a commerce site, a cookie can be used to restore items you had placed in your shopping cart but had not yet purchased. A cookie can also be used to track other sites you visit on the internet and target content based on your behavior. Now cookies don’t store your name or truly know it’s you. Instead they store a unique ID that can be matched to activity or to your account on sites where you have created one.

With private browsing, your search history, logins, and web visits are automatically deleted after you exit the browser. Private mode also makes it harder for websites to track or monitor your online activities. Browsers such as Brave and Opera can even hide or spoof your location, making it difficult for websites to determine where you reside.

Why Use A Private Browser?

If you share a computer with other people and you don’t want them to keep tabs on your browsing activity, open a private browsing session. If you’re researching a surprise vacation for your partner and you don’t want them looking through your browsing history and finding out about it, use private mode. If you want to make it difficult for websites to track and collect data about you, incognito or private mode can help you achieve this. Here is a little more detail about the benefits of going “incognito", including:

  • Limit web tracking: most websites track users’ browsing activities. This is done mostly to understand product preferences and to better tailor ads and content to users.
  • Eliminate cookies: The two largest ad networks are Google and Facebook. These companies and their affiliates use cookies to customize ads for you. If you’ve been wondering why that car you searched for a while back is following you around on the web, it’s because cookies are at work. Websites insert small data files called cookies to your web browser during your first visit. This helps them track your online behavior and deliver targeted ads to you.

Generally, cookies are used to customize information, keep track of shopping activities, monitor logins and protect accounts against security breaches. Nevertheless, third party cookies, such as Facebook Pixel, are used by companies to serve ads to users.

It works this way: when you click on a website or a product page, a cookie will be placed on your browser by the advertiser. That cookie contains a unique user identifier to monitor how you navigate the website, what page or product you click on, how often you visit, and even your location. This information is stored in a remote server, allowing advertisers to deliver personalized ads to you. Social media works in a similar way.

A site like Facebook, for instance, has the ability to track every click, comment, post, and the profile you viewed, as well as other sites you visit and even your physical location if you are using their mobile application. Things can go wrong if that data gets into the wrong hands as it did in 2018 when Cambridge Analytica accessed the personal data of 87 million Facebook users without their consent and used it to influence their political position. For others, the idea of their every online action being tracked is just creepy.

With private browsing, your cookie data gets erased the moment you exit the browser and some private browsers block tracking cookies altogether. Lastly, private browsers won’t remember your log information and most of the things you do online, though some data may be retained or stored by your browser.

What Private Mode Is Not

Private mode is great at keeping local browsing private. If you want to look up a medical condition and ensure you won’t be followed by ads for cures, private browsing is great. But it won’t prevent your Internet Service Provider (ISP), your employer if you are browsing from work, or law enforcement from seeing or accessing your browsing histories. It also does not protect you against viruses and malware. Lastly, for sites where you enjoy the convenience of being remembered and automatically signed-in when you arrive, you need those cookies that standard browsing supports. If you visit that site from a private browsing window, you will need to sign in to access your account each time you visit. Further, once signed in, that site will know who you are and all your activity on their website.

Summary

Private browsing is a perfect option to protect your privacy from others, such as family members, who may have accessed your computer. It will also prevent unwanted ads following you around the internet or unwanted recommended products from popping up on retails sites as long as you are not logged into those sites.

Private browsing does not truly make you anonymous on the internet but it does provide a measure of privacy, limits the data shared with ad networks, and may just make you feel better knowing you are not being tracked.