Safari Private Browsing Uncovered: What You Need to Know

Discover the ins and outs of Safari Private Browsing, its limitations, and alternatives to keep your information secure while browsing the web.
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Safari Private Browsing is a useful option for users who wish to browse the internet and keep their online activity private on their Apple devices. But is it as private as it claims?

In this article, we’ll dive into everything you need to know about Safari Private Browsing. We cover how to use it, its limitations, and alternative solutions that protect your personal information, including privacy-focused browsers and the best VPNs for macOS.

In this article
What is Safari Private Browsing?
Is Safari Private Browsing actually private?
Alternatives to Safari Private Browsing
How to use private browsing in Safari
How to set Safari Private Browsing as default
Safari Private Browsing FAQ
Bottom line

What is Safari Private Browsing?

Safari’s private browsing, otherwise known as incognito mode, allows users to surf the internet without their browser logging or saving any activity data. This includes cookies, search history, and autofill information.

In Safari Private Browsing mode, the browser doesn’t log any browsing history, search queries, or any form data. And it restricts any websites you visit from storing cookies and site data on your mobile or desktop browser.

Essentially, all traces of your session will be erased when you close the anonymous browsing window. This is particularly appealing to users who share a device or simply want their browsing activity to remain private.

Is Safari Private Browsing actually private?

While Safari Private Browsing does provide a certain level of privacy, it is not entirely foolproof or impenetrable. It's essential to be aware of the shortcomings and the parties who may still be able to track your data even when you're using Safari's private browsing mode.

Safari Private Browsing prevents your browser from saving your browsing history, search queries, and cookies locally. However, it does not conceal your IP address or encrypt your internet traffic. 

This means that your internet service provider (ISP), network administrators, and certain websites can still track your online activities. Additionally, if you're using public Wi-Fi or an unsecured network, third parties might intercept your data.

In essence, while Safari Private Browsing offers a degree of privacy by not storing your activities on your device, it doesn't guarantee complete anonymity or protection from all potential threats. To enhance your online privacy and security, consider using additional tools.

Should I use Safari Private Browsing?

Whether you should use Safari Private Browsing typically depends on your privacy needs. If you wish to have a layer of privacy that prevents the storage of your browsing history, cookies, and search queries, then it is right for you.

Users can avoid targeted advertisements and keep all their browsing activity secret from other users on shared devices.

Alternatives to Safari Private Browsing

For those looking for secure and private browsing, there are a few alternatives to Safari Private Browsing. These options include virtual private networks (VPNs) and real privacy-focused browsers.

Virtual private network (VPN)

A VPN is designed to encrypt your internet connection by routing your traffic through a secure server in a location of your choice. This will hide your IP address and make it very difficult for anyone to monitor your online activity. 

Not only are VPNs excellent choices for keeping all your data secure, but they also help you bypass geo-restrictions and access websites or streaming services from other countries as most come with multiple servers across the world.

A VPN is different from private browsing because it provides an extra layer of security by encrypting all data passing through the tunnel and preventing hackers from accessing sensitive information like credit card numbers or logins. 

If you want to buy a VPN subscription for your Apple device but don't know where to start, you can't go wrong with one of these three recommendations:

  • NordVPN: Users concerned with privacy and security will be pleased with what NordVPN has to offer. Even for macOS, Nord provides all the features you need, including a kill switch, split tunneling, and double VPN.

    Get NordVPN | Read Our NordVPN Review

  • Surfshark: Surfshark combines noteworthy features and performance at an affordable price. Along with a double VPN feature, Surfshark also comes with the CleanWeb ad-blocking feature for a smooth browsing experience.

    Get Surfshark | Read Our Surfshark Review

  • ExpressVPN: If you're looking for speed and security, ExpressVPN is an excellent choice. Its proprietary Lightway VPN protocol offers great speeds combined with secure connections. It also provides AES-256 encryption and additional VPN protocols, including OpenVPN, IKEv2, and L2TP/IPsec.

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Privacy-focused browsers

Privacy browsers are internet browsers that offer increased privacy protection compared to regular web browsers. They provide additional protections such as blocking cookies, preventing website tracking, and encrypting your data while you are browsing the web. 

Unlike Safari Private Browsing mode, which only prevents local storage of history and passwords on the computer being used, privacy browsers also block third-party tracking and prevent websites from collecting data about you.

Tor Browser, a free open-source web browser, is designed to provide users with anonymity and maximum privacy. It routes user internet traffic through the Tor network, which involves numerous volunteer-operated servers. By doing so, your IP address is concealed, and it becomes extremely difficult for others to track your online activity. Although Tor can increase your privacy, due to the additional routing, browsing speeds may be reduced.

In addition to Tor, there are also other privacy-focused browsers, such as Brave and Firefox Focus, both designed with privacy and security as a priority. They include built-in features like ad-blockers, tracking protection, and automatic data clearing when you close the browser.

How to use private browsing in Safari

Enable private browsing in Safari on your Mac, iPhone, and iPad to enjoy a more private browsing experience. Follow these straightforward steps to activate this feature on each device.

On macOS

  1. Open a Safari window on your Mac.
  2. Click on "File" in the top-left corner of the menu bar.
  3. Select "New Private Window" from the dropdown menu. A new window with a dark address bar will open, indicating that you're now in private browsing mode.

On iOS

  1. Open Safari on your iPhone or iPad.
  2. Tap the tabs icon (two overlapping squares) in the bottom-right corner of the screen.
  3. Tap "Start Page" at the bottom where the down arrow is then tap “Private.”
  4. Tap the "+" icon to open a new private browsing tab.

How to set Safari Private Browsing as default

Enable private browsing as your default on your Mac to save time by following these straightforward steps:

  1. Open Safari on your Mac.
  2. Click on "Safari" in the top-left corner of the menu bar and then “System Settings” in the dropdown menu.
  3. In the preferences menu select “General,” click the dropdown menu on “Safari opens with:” and select “A new private window”.

Unfortunately, you cannot set Safari Private Browsing as a default on iPhone privacy settings or iPads, so you’ll have to enable privacy mode each time you surf the web on these devices.

Safari Private Browsing FAQ


Can someone see your private search history?

When you use Safari Private Browsing, your search history, browsing history, and cookies will not be stored on your device. Every time you close a private browsing window, all records of your session will be erased.

However, your online activities may still be visible to your ISP, network administrators, and certain websites that collect your IP address. Private browsing is a great way of hiding your online activities from other users on a shared device, but it does not provide complete anonymity online.


What are the benefits of private browsing?

Private browsing offers several benefits, including:

  • Keep your browsing history private from other users on a shared device.
  • Prevents websites from storing cookies that track your activities.
  • Eliminate targeted ads.
  • Bypasses personalized search results and online tracking.
  • Reduces the risk of accidentally saving sensitive data, such as login credentials or auto-fill form data.

While private browsing provides an additional layer of privacy that normal browsing doesn’t, it's essential to understand its limitations and consider the use of additional tools, such as a VPN or a privacy-focused browser.


How do I clear my search history in Safari?

To clear your search history in Safari on a Mac, iPhone, or iPad, follow these steps:

On a Mac

  1. Open the Safari browser.
  2. Click on "History" in the menu bar at the top of the screen.
  3. Select "Clear History" from the dropdown menu.
  4. Choose the desired time range to clear (e.g., last hour, today, today, and yesterday, or all history) and click "Clear History."

On an iPhone or iPad

  1. Open "Settings."
  2. Move down and click on "Safari."
  3. Choose "Clear History and Website Data."
  4. Confirm your choice by pressing "Clear History and Data."

Please note that clearing your history will also clear Safari cookies and other browsing data from your device.

Bottom line

While Safari Private Browsing does provide certain privacy benefits, it is not a foolproof solution for securing your information online. It's crucial to be aware of its limitations and explore alternatives, such as VPNs or privacy-focused browsers, to enhance your online privacy and security.

By combining these tools and adopting good internet safety habits, you can better protect your personal data and stay safe online. You might also use one of our recommended ad blockers for Safari to prevent third-party cookies from tracking you (and get rid of those annoying ads at the same time).

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Author Details
Ryan Clancy is a freelance writer and blogger. With 5+ years of mechanical engineering experience, he's passionate about all things engineering and tech. He loves bringing engineering (especially mechanical) down to a level that everyone can understand.