Why you should be browsing the web in incognito mode
As data tracking becomes more commonplace, consumers are looking for better ways to stay private online. One of the most popular and accessible privacy tools is incognito mode. Otherwise known as private mode, incognito mode is an internet browser function that helps reduce your visibility online.
However, like many privacy tools, incognito mode isn’t perfect. Before you use it, it’s important to understand its benefits and limitations.
Keep reading to learn what incognito mode can do and how it affects your privacy online.
How does incognito mode work?
Incognito mode is a browser tool that lets you explore the internet with more privacy. Most major web browsers offer some version of private browsing. Chrome’s version is called “Incognito Mode,” for example, while Safari and Firefox both use the term “Private Window.”
Both private and non-private browsers function similarly, except for one major difference: the amount of information they store.
When you open a standard browsing window, the browser records the URL of every site you visit. The browser also stores cookies, or small text files that contain your personal information and browsing preferences. Cookies are responsible for a number of storage tasks, including remembering your login information, auto-filling the URLs of your favorite sites, and reloading items in your virtual shopping cart.
Not only do cookies make it easier for you to search the web, but they also give website hosts the opportunity to track your online activity. Companies use the information they gather via cookies to tailor their web content and send you personalized ads.
Incognito browsers, on the other hand, don’t save your information. Every time you open an incognito window, it’s a blank slate; none of your preferences or personal details get saved. Then, once you shut an incognito tab or window, the browser deletes your browsing history and wipes away any cookies you accumulated during your browsing session.
The benefits of using incognito mode
Incognito mode has a couple of key benefits, the first of which is that it hides your browsing history from anyone who has access to your computer. Say, for example, that you want to buy a surprise birthday gift for someone in your family. Shopping in incognito mode ensures no one logging onto your computer will see your browsing history.
Another benefit of incognito mode is that it lowers the chance of receiving targeted ads. Maybe you want to watch a cello concert on YouTube without changing your recommended videos, for example. Or, you might want to shop for a new pair of sunglasses without being bombarded with eyewear ads in the future.
When you browse in incognito mode, companies aren’t able to collect as much information on your preferences, habits, and purchases because they don’t have access to your cookies. As a result, you might see fewer personalized ads and suggestions after browsing in a private window.
It’s smart to use incognito mode in situations where you want extra privacy. Think: when printing a file on a public computer or using your friend’s laptop to check your inbox. Going incognito for these tasks means that your personal information won’t be saved on the devices you use.
The limits of incognito mode
Incognito mode offers you more privacy when browsing the internet, but it doesn’t guarantee your anonymity.
Unfortunately, most people don’t know the limits of incognito mode. In a 2018 study from the University of Chicago, 56.3% of consumers said they believed their Google search queries wouldn’t be saved in incognito mode. However, that’s not true. Incognito mode deletes your search history from your local browser, but Google web hosts can still see your searches if you’re logged into your Google account.
Similarly, website servers, internet service providers (ISPs), and network providers still have records of your site visits. If you use incognito mode at work while on your employer’s Wi-Fi, for example, your employer will be able to see the sites you visited.
Website hosts can also gather information on you, even without access to your cookies. By pinpointing your browser type, operating system, plug-ins, and screen resolution, websites can fingerprint your device, identify your IP address, and send the information back to their servers for analysis.
How to stay more private
Incognito mode is a helpful tool, but it has its limitations. If you want to improve your privacy online, it’s crucial to take other precautions. Here are three steps to help you protect your personal information:
1. Use a masked email address
Your email address is linked to your social media profiles, purchases, subscriptions, and online accounts, which makes it one of the most powerful pieces of personal information available on the web. If you don’t want certain companies to have access to your email address, you can opt to use a masked email.
A masked email address is tied to your actual email, but it hides your real email address. Using a masked email to create online accounts can help cut down on the number of targeted ads and unwanted emails you receive.
2. Install a tracker blocker
If you want more privacy from companies trying to monitor your online activity, consider installing a tracker blocker. A tracker blocker tool prevents companies from seeing your digital activity, therefore hiding information like your:
Not only can a tracker blocker better protect your personal information in case of a data breach, but it also helps reduce the number of targeted ads you receive.
Of course, you shouldn’t feel obligated to hide your personal information at all times if you don’t want to. Tools like FigLeaf let you customize where and when you enable your tracker blocker. If, for example, you want to receive suggested ads for apartments in your neighborhood, you can disable your blocker and stay visible. Or, if you want more privacy, you can leave the blocker on.
3. Figure out how much personal information you have online
You have to share a certain amount of personal information to use the internet, but revealing too many sensitive details can make you more vulnerable in the event of a data breach. To increase your privacy, it’s a good idea to figure out how much of your personal information is accessible online.
FigLeaf has a built-in tool that scans the web for personally identifiable information like your email address, location, phone number, credit card number, usernames, and passwords. You can see the types of personal information you have available, as well as whether or not it’s been compromised. From there, you can decide what you feel comfortable sharing online and with whom.
Similar to incognito mode, FigLeaf lets you browse the internet on your terms. With our all-in-one tool, you can choose how private you want to be wherever you go online. The best part? You can change your settings as often as you want.