The so-called incognito mode that is available in browsers like Chrome or Firefox is used by millions of people every day in an effort to hide their internet activity. But, how safe is the incognito mode really? Can you be tracked in incognito mode?
Incognito mode only hides your internet activity from others that might be using your computer or phone. Your ISP, school, employer, or tracking software may still see what you’re doing online and which websites you have visited.
Not only is incognito mode not private, but arguably the worst thing about it is that people think it hides all your browsing and search history.
Is It Better To Use Incognito Mode?
Incognito provides more privacy than a normal browsing window. However, it’s not an invisibility cloak and is best used when you share your device with other people and you don’t want them to see what you were browsing.
Nevertheless, everyone else, including your employer, school, university, and, of course, your internet service provider, and any potential hackers will be able to see your activity.
Granted, your place of work or education is able to tap into your activity if they’re the ones providing your internet access or you’re using their computer, phone, etc.
What Does Incognito Mode Hide?
According to Google, since their incognito mode is the most popular one, only cookies, site data, and browsing history, as well as any data you entered into forms, are hidden and aren’t saved on your device.
All the websites you visit will treat you as a new visitor and you won’t be logged in by default. Also, none of your browsing activity will show up in browser history. And anyone using your computer, tablet, or phone won’t see your browsing history that was done while in incognito mode.
Can Websites Track Me In Incognito Mode?
When using incognito mode, websites will treat you as a new user or customer and won’t know who exactly you are unless you log in. However, they’re still able to see what you’re doing when you’re browsing through their website, and what ads you clicked on.
It gets worse. You see, websites, online services, and search engines will also know your IP address (if you aren’t using a VPN) that can reveal your general area and much more to someone more tech-savvy.
A class-action lawsuit that was filed recently, claims that Google failed to inform users it accumulates browsing data and shares it with advertisers even when you’re browsing in incognito mode.
What Does My School Or University See When I’m In Incognito Mode?
Even if you’re using incognito mode, a school or university admin can see exactly what and for how long you were browsing. That’s because you’re either using their WiFi or ethernet to connect to the internet, or you’re using their computer or other devices.
In all these cases, the institution can see, if they want to, whatever you’re doing online, i.e., streaming, browsing, shopping, emailing, etc. You have to use the internet under the assumption that they are looking over your shoulder.
Who Can See My Incognito Searches?
Whatever you’re searching for online can be seen by, obviously, the search engine you’re using, but also your ISP, potential hackers using man-in-the-middle or fake hotspot attacks, and any institutions if you’re using their internet connection.
When To Use Incognito Mode?
The incognito mode is basically only useful when you share your device, i.e., your laptop or smartphone, with other people, and you don’t want them to see your browsing history.
Some airlines and hotels also use different prices whenever you’re browsing their websites or logging in. To get a lower price, try going incognito.
People who have websites of their own also use incognito mode frequently to see them as outsiders, i.e., as a new user would see them and check that everything works as it should – pop-ups come up, notifications and ads load as they should, etc.
Incognito mode also prevents browsers from automatically populating forms and URLs, as this could get you in sticky situations as well.
Tips For Browsing Privately
Now that we have learned that incognito browsing isn’t all that incognito and that there are still groups of people and institutions that can see what we’re doing online let’s find out how to prevent it and stay more safe and private.
1. Get a VPN
Getting a VPN is the number one way to boost your privacy and security. Not only will it hide all your browsing and other online activities from your ISP, school, or employer, but it will stay hidden even if hackers intercept the data.
You see, a VPN encrypts all the data that’s going back and forth from your device to VPN’s remote servers. That way, no one else can see your information but your VPN provider. That’s why it’s important to choose a well-known and reliable VPN provider that has a strict no-logs policy.
All the major VPNs have one, but we mostly recommend NordVPN, Surfshark, and ExpressVPN. These three VPNs are the backbone, and arguably, most users use one of them to enhance their privacy as even the incognito mode won’t protect you from prying eyes.
In short, a VPN disguises your identity while you’re browsing online, incognito or not. As we already stated earlier, it’s comparatively straightforward for third parties to observe what you’re doing online and to even link that back to your IP address (that is unique to you).
2. Install An AdBlocker
Adblockers efficiently prevent banner ads, video ads, and pop-ups from annoying you, and they do so out-of-the-box and without the need to interfere with the settings. Acceptable ads that aren’t overly intrusive aren’t automatically blocked, but you can block them if you want to.
If you follow our tip number one and install a VPN, the good news is that they have adblockers included, like NordVPN’s CyberSec, and you can easily turn them on or off.
This is handy as you need to be aware that by blocking ads, you’re taking away revenue from websites and other platforms, which may lead some of them to go out of business if too many people start using adblockers.
3. Use Anti-Trackers
Anti-trackers are usually browser extensions that prevent advertisers and other trackers from secretly trailing your every step online.
4. Disable Location Tracking
Another form of tracking is location tracking. Apps and websites use it all the time, and some tracking can be useful, for example, when coupled with Google Maps or weather apps. Who doesn’t use one of these?
However, if you want to prevent other apps from tracking you based on your location, you’ll have to turn the feature off yourself or not let them track you in the first place.
To turn this option off manually, go to App Permissions and Location. Toggle off for all apps or go through the list and pick and choose.
5. Search Or Browse In DuckDuckGo And Tor
The most popular web browser in the world, Chrome, is far from private, and Google is heavily tracking you, even in Incognito Mode. There are other, more private browsers, though.
One of them is the Tor Browser. It too will protect your privacy by preventing others from seeing what websites you visited. All others can see is that you’re using the Tor Browser.
It aims to make all users look alike, to make it difficult for you to be identified based on your browser and device information.
Similarly to VPNs, your internet traffic is encrypted and ran through thousands of servers known as Tor relays.
If you need to search for something, don’t use Google next time, use DuckDuckGo. This search engine is a complete opposite of Google in the way that it doesn’t track you when you’re browsing and doesn’t share your data and search history with advertisers.
Yet, shockingly, it still makes money. As the company explains, when you search for a “sofa” they simply show you ads for sofas and the ads won’t follow you around endlessly until you buy one, or even much longer.
6. Text Or Call Over Signal Or Telegram
Although it isn’t browsing, messaging and making calls are still integral to day-to-day communication. For this reason, we recommend two apps – Signal and Telegram for all your voice or video calls, as well as messaging.
These two apps look and feel just like any other messaging apps but they have a strong focus on privacy while still letting you enjoy all the usual features like sending photos, emojis, stickers, etc.
7. Turn Off Voice Search Assistants
Siri, Alexa, Google Assisstant, or Bixby can be useful at times and can even make your life a bit easier, however, they also, arguably, listen to you all the time. They might even record what you’re doing and sending the data to third parties for transcribing and other purposes.
If you want to prevent this intrusion into privacy, you’re better off turning these assistants off in the settings of your computer, TV, phone, tablet, smart speaker, etc. They are everywhere now.
8. HTTPS is a MUST
Hypertext transfer protocol secure (HTTPS) is used for secure communication and is widely used online these days. It comes before the website URL and means that a website is secure and the information you send through it is encrypted.
For increased safety online, you should never send personal information through a website if you can’t see the lock or HTTPS in the address bar.
9. Enable Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication guarantees your accounts will be safe even if someone gets hold of your passwords. By sending a code to your phone, the 2FA ensures only you can login.
You can receive a message on your mobile phone with a code or even an automated phone call. Or you can use an app like Google Authenticator or Authy on your phone or desktop to confirm the entry.
If you haven’t already, make sure to enable the two-factor authentication for all your accounts, when available.
10. Don’t use public WiFi
Public WiFi networks are some of the most dangerous internet connections that you could use. They are extremely popular as they’re usually free and are also super-convenient.
People usually mindlessly connect to them without worrying that the network they’re connecting to could be from a hacker and not from the establishment at all.
If you don’t use a VPN and you connect to a public WiFi in a hotel, coffee shop, airport, etc., a third-party could be seeing everything you do online, including your bank’s details, credit card information, and any other sensitive data.
Not only is Incognito Mode in your browser not safe to use but it also isn’t private at all. The only ones you’re hiding your browsing history from are the other people that share your computer, phone, or other device that you used Incognito Mode with.