Is Incognito Mode Safe?

It is a common misconception that choosing to open a new browser window in Incognito Mode will mean that you are effectively operating under an invisible force field which will hide everything you do online from everyone else, but that is certainly not the case.

Privacy modes have been added to many web browsers that offer a modicum of privacy, but they will not solve all privacy concerns at the click of a mouse.  The reality is that they provide little in the way of actual security, although they do have some value from increasing privacy protections.

So what does Incognito Mode actually do?

Private viewing modes such as Incognito Mode hide your Internet activity from other users of the same device. That means that family members, colleagues, cohabiters, customers, or anyone else with access to your computer or device will not be able to see the websites and web pages you have visited.

Using this mode, your search history and activity will be hidden along with any other valuable information like login credentials. Some situations where Incognito Mode is useful include:

  • Online shopping to hide purchases you would rather remain private.
  • Using a range of different email or social media platforms where only one user is permitted to be logged in at one time.
  • Searches that you do not want to have recorded.
  • Travel arrangement when you want to avoid price increases based on your search history.

If you are planning on using this mode of browsing for anything else then it is important to remember that:

  • An IT administrator can still monitor your activity so you should never assume you can do anything that is not allowed by the relevant Code of Conduct.
  • Your activity can still be linked back to you using methods like browser fingerprinting.
  • Web portals you visit will still monitor and record your activity on the site for their own analytics and marketing campaigns.
  • Your Internet Service Provider will still be able to identify and monitor the websites and web pages you visit.

Is there an Incognito/Private Mode on most Web Browsers?

The majority of web browsers give you the option of conducting your Internet activity in a private mode. For example:

  • Chrome provides Incognito Mode: ‘Incognito mode stops Chrome from saving your browsing activity to your local history. Your activity, like your location, might still be visible to: Websites you visit, including the ads and resources used on those sites.’
  • Microsoft’s Explorer and Edge provide InPrivate mode: ‘InPrivate Browsing is a feature that stops Microsoft Edge from saving information about your browsing session, such as cookies and your browsing history.’
  • Firefox and Opera browsers provide Private Browsing: ‘Private mode that allows you to surf the web without the browser tracking your activity.’

Remember that none of these modes will ensure your Internet activity is not being tracked or recorded in some manner. They simply give you peace of mind in relation to preventing others that are using the same device from seeing your activity history. If you also want to block Internet activity from your ISP, you will need to use a VPN. Bear in mind that the VPN provider will be able to see the sites that you visit, and may disclose that information to third parties such as law enforcement.

Author: Maria Perez