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Is Incognito mode really private?

Grace Sweeney

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Perhaps we’re collectively wising up to the various ways in which we’re being spied on at any given moment.

Incognito

According to a 2016 study from the University of Washington, at least 75% of the world’s most popular websites use web tracking tools. Three years later, we’re sure that number has only gone up.

As such, there’s a lot to consider when it comes to privacy and how much we care about whether our browsing activities are genuinely private.

Which brings us to this question; how private is Google’s Incognito mode?

Is Incognito search really private?

Most of today’s mainstream browsers such as Google Chrome, Firefox, and Safari have some private browsing features, but it’s important to understand the difference between real private browsing and incognito.

Chrome’s Incognito isn’t private browsing, and they do mention this when you open a new incognito window.

As the name suggests, you’re really just putting a “disguise” on your online activity so that your browser doesn’t store cookies or password info during your next session.

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Chrome’s privacy issues

Chrome privacy

There’s a reason that Google Chrome is currently the most popular browser in the world. It’s easy to use, and it connects with all of your Google accounts. If you’re like most people, you’re probably using it on the regular.

Just think about how often you have to use Google Docs at work or how many people you know who use Gmail.

With all of its convenience and user-friendliness comes a darker side. Chrome stores a ton of information about you from names, addresses, and passwords to what you do online.

Are there any benefits to using an Incognito tab?

incognito

The idea is, if you’re using your own devices, you don’t have to keep logging into various accounts. Also, Google will help you keep track of calendar reminders, save your parking location, and remember multiple passwords, so you don’t have to.

However, if you’re on a public computer or other people have access to your device, you probably don’t want that information stored publicly. You especially don’t if you’re accessing sensitive content online.

That’s the main reason Google developed Incognito mode, not necessarily to provide a totally anonymous browsing experience.

This includes the websites you’ve visited and the information you may have entered, including passwords.

But while Incognito mode brings some privacy into the fold, it doesn’t provide total anonymity. It certainly doesn’t protect against hackers, government surveillance, or even your employer or school.

That said, here are a handful of benefits associated with Incognito search,

Open multiple Google accounts

Let’s say you’re juggling both work and personal accounts, but want to pull them up on the same device. Open an Incognito tab and log into the secondary account.

Get around (certain) firewalls

 HBR incognito browser

Some sites like the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, and others have firewalls in place. Apparently, they use cookies to track whether you’ve reached your free article limit.

If you’d like to read an article without shelling out for the full subscription, opening an Incognito tab presents a (somewhat) reliable workaround.

However, it doesn’t work for every paywalled site. The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, for instance, are onto this particular hack. Also, when you don’t pay for journalism, it has a tendency to die.

Do some benign sleuthing in an Incognito tab

If you’re stalking an ex on social media or scrolling through an acquaintance’s Instagram, or want to see someone’s LinkedIn profile without them knowing, Incognito is the perfect tool.

Sure, you might not be able to see every profile, but you’ll have a layer of protection against accidentally “liking” something.

You can prevent companies from tracking you

One of the key benefits of going incognito is that it prevents websites from tracking your cookies.

This means that you can browse freely without giving your browsing information to the sites you visit. Essentially, this allows you to opt out of remarketing campaigns.

That said, you can’t prevent your own company from monitoring your online activity — whether Chrome is wearing its spy fedora or not.

While your boss will need to install third-party tracking software to do so, you’re better off assuming that any company devices don’t offer much in the way of privacy.

Wrapping up

Incognito does have benefits, but the real downside is the fact that many people misunderstand its purpose.

However, the main thing to remember is that incognito doesn’t equal encrypted. If that’s your aim, you’ll want to make sure to use Tor, Brave, or use a VPN to keep online activity genuinely private.

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