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Avast Academy Privacy Browser What Is Incognito Mode and Is It Safe?

What Is Incognito Mode
and Is It Safe?

Whether it’s Chrome, Firefox, or Safari, all modern browsers offer an incognito mode for private browsing. But while you can don the glasses-and-hat disguise to hide a bit, it won’t cover your tracks nearly as much as you might think. Keep reading to learn what Incognito mode means and how a dedicated private browser like Avast Secure Browser can help keep you properly disguised online.


What is Incognito mode?

Incognito mode is a private window within your regular browser — a place to surf the internet without your history being saved on your device when your browsing session ends. Cookies, which are little bits of identifying data that follow you around the internet, and other traces from your browsing history aren’t saved after you end your private browsing session.

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    But, it’s important to know that in an incognito session, your online activity isn’t completely hidden from websites, network administrators, or search engines. Later in this article, we’ll take a look at who can still see your online activity when you’re browsing in Incognito mode.

    How does Incognito mode work?

    Incognito mode lets you surf the web as though you were a new visitor to each site you land on. Every website you visit while browsing in Incognito mode assumes you’ve never visited the site before, meaning that no saved cookies, login information, or auto-filled webforms will be waiting for you.

    Going incognito ensures that flight tickets, for example, and other high-value items won’t increase in price the more you search for them.

    However, if you sign in to your personal accounts while in Incognito mode, your data is saved for the session. It won’t be remembered if you exit completely, but it will help websites and advertisers collect identifying data while you’re signed in.

    Going incognito ensures that flight tickets, for example, and other high-value items won’t increase in price the more you search for them.

    After you open an Incognito browser in Chrome, but before you begin your surfing session, you can opt to enable third-party cookies, which are otherwise blocked by default. Allowing Chrome to block these cookies while in Incognito mode means that you’ll see fewer targeted ads, but it may affect the functionality of certain websites you visit.

    Depending on the browser you’re using, opening a new incognito window while you already have one open may not start a second session. Safari treats each private window and tab as a new session, but every open incognito window in Chrome belongs to the same session — and that session ends when all open incognito windows are closed individually, or when you exit Incognito mode from within one of the open windows.

    To help you keep track of your individual Incognito windows, the number of windows you have open at any time is displayed in the top-right corner of each window.

    Incognito mode in Google Chrome.A new incognito tab in Google Chrome.

    How private is Incognito mode?

    In Incognito mode, your browsing and search history and cookies won’t be saved on your device. But if you bookmark a site or download a file from the internet during your session, it will still be visible to other people who have access to your computer after the session ends.

    By contrast, when you browse normally online, all of your web browsing history, search history, and cookies are saved until you manually delete them, or until you use a browser cleaner tool to delete them automatically. 

    There are ways to safeguard your online activity so that it can’t be traced back to you or your device. A virtual private network (VPN) fully encrypts your connection to the internet and other network devices, ensuring that your banking details and passwords remain protected.

    The encrypted connection you get with a VPN, like Avast SecureLine VPN, also hides your device’s identity before you connect to a network, meaning the creepy hooded figure across the cafe will have a much harder time hacking you.

    Can Incognito mode be tracked?

    Online tracking refers to gathering information about web visitors through the use of analytics and other software tools that are embedded on websites. Companies use this information to create unique online profiles of people, known as a digital fingerprint

    Your digital fingerprint — your operating system, browser, location, timezone, language, and even device specifications — is collected by scripts running in the background of websites. These scripts are virtually indistinguishable from the scripts responsible for the everyday functioning of the websites you use. 

    But if tracking can help websites function, why is it bad? The trackers that determine your online fingerprint can identify you with an incredibly high degree of accuracy, meaning your browsing sessions aren’t as private as you think — even in Incognito mode. This can affect you in several ways:

    • Advertisers can use ad tracking to gather data about your online behavior to spam you with targeted ads.

    • Some websites may show higher prices for products that you’ve  researched online — a form of dynamic pricing.

    • Many of your favorite websites store huge amounts of information about you. If this data is breached, third parties and data brokers can access, use, or even sell your personal data.

    Even if you choose to block third-party cookies, you may still be vulnerable to tracking. Signing in to your personal user accounts on Gmail, Facebook, or Amazon, allows these websites to determine your fingerprint and adjust their content accordingly.

    Does Incognito mode hide IP addresses?

    Incognito mode hides your search history from other people who may be using your device. But, unlike a VPN, Incognito mode does not hide your IP address, which is an integral part of your device’s identity online. Generally, Incognito mode isn’t enough if your aim is to hide your online activity from other users on your network

    If you want to hide your IP address or other activity from people on your network — whether you’re in a cafe, at an airport, or anywhere else with a public Wi-Fi network — you should use a VPN to connect to the internet, instead of privately browsing in Incognito mode. A VPN allows you to bypass geolocation restrictions and ensures your online activity isn’t traced back to you.

    Also, a VPN encrypts your device information and data before it even hits the network to connect. Just note that your browsing history will still be visible to anyone with access to your device. For total protection, use a VPN along with Incognito mode.

    Unlike a VPN, Incognito mode does not hide your IP address or browsing activity from others on your network.Going incognito hides your activity from anyone who can access your device. But going incognito does not hide your IP or activity from others on your network.

    Who can see your Incognito mode history?

    Most browsers keep track of which websites you visit. Some browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox, include settings that allow you to delete browser history automatically once your browsing session is over.

    Alongside browsing history, websites you visit remember your preferences, activities, and habits. You can delete these data files — called browser cookies — directly within most browsers when you delete your browsing history. You can also manage your cookie settings for later.

    Using Incognito mode is a good way to prevent your cookies and browsing history from being saved after your session, but that doesn’t mean your activity is completely invisible. Even after your browsing session ends, and you’ve closed all the incognito browser windows, the following services may still be able to identify you if you don’t manually delete your incognito history.

    • Websites you visit while in Incognito mode: If you sign in to websites and services online while in Incognito mode, they can identify you. 

    • Network administrators: Doing personal business on a work or school computer is a big no-no. If your network or device administrator wants to, they can see everything you do and every site you visit.

    • Your internet service provider (ISP): Everything you do online first passes through the hands of your internet service provider. Unlike a VPN, Incognito mode won’t hide your activity from them.

    • Search engines: While a curious family member may not be able to see your Incognito browsing history after your session, some search engines still can.

    Why do people use Incognito mode?

    People typically browse in Incognito (or private) mode when they don’t want to save their search or browsing history to their device, or if they’re trying to remain anonymous online. For example, if you’re searching for a gift for someone who may also use the same device and you don’t want them to find out, searching in incognito will ensure this stays private.

    Unfortunately, many people use Incognito mode without realizing its limitations. In Incognito mode, your IP address is still visible, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re completely exposed. Browsing incognito is still worth it if you know how to use it to its full advantage. 

    So, what is incognito good for? Here are some of the best reasons to use Incognito mode:

    • Avoiding saved cookies: Sites you visit won’t permanently save your login or device information, which means you can sign in to multiple accounts at once, or make sure product prices remain low.

    • Hiding search history: Although some search engines may keep tabs on your search history even while you’re in Incognito mode, other people who have access to your device won’t be able to. 

    • Tracking protection: Your online activity is protected in Incognito mode, meaning you’ll get fewer targeted ads and suggestions, as long as you don’t sign in to your personal accounts.

    • Hosting a guest: Browse the internet with a clean slate. If someone borrows your device, Incognito mode will ensure they can’t sign in to your accounts or autofill webforms with your saved data. And, in turn, your guest will also be reassured knowing that their data won’t be saved on your device either. 

    For those particularly interested in protecting their security and privacy, we recommend going incognito while using a secure browser, like Avast Secure Browser, that has built-in privacy features, including forced encryption and anti-fingerprinting capabilities.

    So, is Incognito mode really safe?

    In general, if you know how to use Incognito mode, it’s safe to use. Here are some dos and don’ts.

    While using Incognito mode, you can:

    Icon_01Treat a borrowed device like a borrowed device. Always treat a work or school device like a borrowed one, even if you use Incognito mode all the time. When someone uses your personal device to check their email, have them use Incognito mode, too.

    Icon_01Expect to be hidden. You won’t be completely invisible in Incognito mode, but you can rest assured that the surprise vacation you’ve been organizing on the family computer will remain a surprise from snooping family eyes.

    While using Incognito mode, don’t:

    Icon_02Sign in to personal sites. Social media sites remember. Signing in to personal user accounts can help other sites identify you, even while in Incognito mode.

    Icon_02Expect to be invisible. If you’re surfing for new jobs or accessing NSFW content on a work computer, Incognito mode won’t be enough to hide it if the network administrators decide to check.

    How to go incognito

    Most web browsers available today have an incognito or private browsing mode. First, you need to open the browser. With the browser open, you can then open a private window. No matter which browser is your default browser, there’s a way to browse privately. Check out these guides to learn:

    Go beyond Incognito with a browser built for privacy

    Our commitment to online safety means you should never have to choose between local and global privacy when you’re on the internet. That’s why we created a browser that combines encryption and incognito into one, and includes a suite of other privacy features to keep you extra safe online.

    Avast Secure Browser's Security & Privacy Center has many privacy features, such as Stealth Mode, Anti-Tracking, and Anti-Fingerprinting.

    With Avast Secure Browser, you can go incognito to browse privately, you can force websites to encrypt your connection, and you can block tracking and fingerprinting technology swiftly and easily. Even better, it’s free! Download it today to add a layer of bulletproof security to your private browsing experience.