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Incognito mode is a way to open a private session for web browsing that’s primarily associated with Google Chrome. Other browsers, including Safari and Mozilla Firefox, have similar functions called “private browsing.”
This is an important tool for keeping your browsing habits private on your local device, but it doesn’t typically offer complete privacy. You might consider using a virtual private network, or VPN, if you want additional online security.
Learn about the benefits and limitations of Chrome incognito mode to see what privacy solutions might make sense for you.
Is incognito mode the same as a VPN?
How can I hide my IP address?
Incognito mode FAQs
Does incognito mode hide your IP address?
Incognito mode doesn’t hide your IP, or internet protocol, address. It offers some privacy benefits, but masking the physical location of your internet connection isn’t one of them.
Additionally, incognito mode doesn’t prevent your internet service provider (ISP) from tracking your online activity, including browsing activity. Your web activity could also be visible to different websites you visit, your school, or your employer.
Consider these situations where using incognito mode might not provide the privacy you’re looking for:
- At home: Your ISP would still be able to track your online activity.
- At school: Your school might be able to monitor your online activity if your Chrome browser is managed by a network administrator.
- At work: Your employer might be able to monitor your online activity if your Chrome browser is managed by a network administrator.
What’s an IP address?
An IP address is a unique identifier assigned to any device that connects to the internet. This could include phones, computers, speakers, and more. IP addresses are typically displayed as a string of four numbers that range from 0 to 255 and are separated by periods.
Using this format, an IP address might appear as 192.168.0.150 or another similar combination of numbers.
IP addresses are used to communicate with other internet-connected devices. They’re necessary and important for the internet to function, but they can also reveal certain information about a device’s location.
This could include your city, region, and country, as well as the name of your ISP. This doesn’t necessarily mean someone would be able to find your name or street address if they know your real IP address, but they might be able to learn your general location.
What does incognito mode do?
Incognito mode is a simple way to quickly adjust your web browser privacy settings.
You typically have standard privacy settings for web browsers that affect the collection of search history and the storage of computer cookies. If you want to adjust your options, you would enter your browser settings and manually select your preferences.
Cookies, sometimes called trackers, are small text files that include bits of information from your browsing experience.
But incognito mode removes the need to manually adjust anything in certain situations, including if you share a computer with someone else. Incognito mode opens up a private session where browsing data and cookies aren’t saved before ending your session.
Here are a few reasons you might want to use incognito mode:
- To hide your browsing history
- To browse the internet without personalized ads or recommendations
- To log into a personal account on someone else’s computer
- To search for silly questions that you don't want someone else to stumble upon
- To watch YouTube without a million "personalized" recommendations you don't care about
- To watch YouTube videos you don't want affecting your algorithm
- To log into multiple accounts on the same website at the same time (log into one account on a normal browser and then use incognito for another account)
- To read paywalled articles on sites that only allow a certain number of free article reads
- To test links or websites before sending them to someone else
Incognito mode clears cookies each time you end a private browsing session. Cookies are generated when you visit websites and make certain actions, such as adding an item to an online shopping cart.
Here are a few ways cookies could be used:
- To remember site data, such as a username and password
- To remember online shopping habits
- To build personalized advertisements
Yet, you generally don’t have to worry about cookies if you use incognito mode. Every private browsing mode is like opening up a web browser as a new user without any history, personalizations, or recommendations.
Deletes your browser history
Incognito mode will also delete your browser history when you end each private session. This is often useful for completing web searches that you don’t want someone else in your household to see.
For example, plugging “Can cow saliva cure baldness?” into a search engine while in an incognito tab won’t come back to haunt later you in the form of a loved one or roommate finding out. Unless you forget to end your private session, the history will be deleted, and no one will be the wiser.
Is incognito mode the same as a VPN?
Incognito mode isn’t the same as a VPN. Incognito mode offers a fresh browsing experience each time you start a private session. It clears cookies and browsing history after each session.
A VPN typically encrypts your internet connection and masks your physical location. This offers protection from anyone trying to track your online activity, including hackers and ISPs.
Here are a few different situations where you might choose to use one service over the other.
Shopping for a gift for a loved one
Use: Incognito mode
Giving a surprise gift often makes the experience that much more enjoyable for both the giver and receiver. But what if you share a computer with the intended recipient, and they can see your browsing history? How are you supposed to research the perfect gift?
With incognito mode, there’s little chance of someone finding your browser searches and activity. Your browsing history is deleted after every session.
Connecting to public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi, including at airports and coffee shops, poses a big security risk. Without proper security protocols, including a network password, cybercriminals could view your online activity and potentially access personal information.
A VPN encrypts your internet connection to help prevent unwanted prying into your personal data, even on public Wi-Fi.
Using a friend’s or public computer
Use: Incognito mode
Using a computer other than your own might present a few security concerns. This could include a web browser saving information about any personal accounts you log into.
Fortunately, incognito mode deletes both browsing history and cookies after each session. This wouldn’t prevent an ISP from tracking your online activity, but it wouldn’t leave any saved usernames or passwords on a web browser.
Using your home computer
Home networks are typically more secure than public Wi-Fi networks, but your ISP could still track your actions online. You would need a VPN to stop your ISP from tracking your online activity.
How can I hide my IP address?
Incognito mode doesn’t hide your IP address, but other options are available. Consider these options for hiding your IP address.
VPNs are typically separated into free and paid versions. Most VPNs offer encryption for your internet connection and functionality to hide your IP address. But paid VPN services often provide increased online privacy and customer support.
If you want to hide your IP address with a paid VPN subscription, expect to pay around $2 to $8 per month. Popular VPN providers, including NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and CyberGhost, typically charge their lowest prices if you pay for yearly subscriptions.
Web browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, and Safari offer incognito mode or private browsing functionality. But these features won’t help you hide your IP address.
Consider these browsers that could help hide your online activity, potentially including your IP address:
- Tor Browser: Sends your internet traffic through a network of relays to disguise your online actions.
- Opera: Offers a free VPN service connected to a web browser to hide your IP address.
- Epic Privacy Browser: Also offers a free VPN service connected to a web browser to hide your IP address.
Incognito mode FAQs
Does incognito mode hide your location?
No, incognito mode doesn’t hide your location. Incognito mode is a private Chrome session that doesn’t save any browsing history or cookies during the session. This is different from a VPN, which typically encrypts your internet connection and hides your physical location.
Is incognito mode actually private?
No, incognito mode isn’t actually private. Your online activity can still be tracked by your ISP and certain websites while using a private browsing session. However, incognito mode does improve privacy on your local device by not saving your browser history or cookies during each session.
How do I enable incognito mode in Chrome?
Follow these steps to enable incognito mode in Chrome on a computer:
- Open your Chrome browser
- Click the three vertical dots in the top right corner
- Select “New Incognito window”
Or use a certain keyboard shortcut (depending on your operating system) after opening your browser:
- On Windows: Press Ctrl + Shift + n
- On Mac: Press Shift + Command + n
How do I turn on private browsing in Safari?
Follow these steps to turn on private browsing in Safari on a Mac:
- Open your Safari browser
- Click on “File” in the top left corner
- Select “New Private Window”
Or use this keyboard shortcut after opening your browser: press Shift + Command + n
While incognito mode offers certain privacy benefits, it’s not the same as using a VPN. Incognito mode and other types of private browsing typically avoid saving your browser history and cookies during each session. But a VPN often hides all your internet activity and masks your physical location.
Both tools have their benefits, but a VPN is likely far more useful for protecting against cybercrime and online tracking. Assess your internet security by learning how to stay safe online.