Private browsing is a way of masking your online search habits and history, allowing you to surf the internet without your browser saving data to onto your computer. Although it hides superficial search data, it lacks the secure encryption of a VPN and should be considered only as a means of preventing other users from seeing what pages you have visited.
These capabilities are built into everyday web browsers, including Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Apple’s Safari, and Mozilla Firefox, which normally involves opening a new window in a mode that prevents data capture.
Depending on the browser you use, the private browsing tool will have a different moniker – Google Chrome has its ‘Incognito’ mode while Internet Explorer uses ‘InPrivate’. Here’s our guide to private browsing and how to enable the tools on every major browser.
As we mentioned above, Google Chrome calls its private browsing mode Incognito Mode. This can be accessed by simply selecting “New Incognito Window” from the menu when in Chrome. You’ll be able to tell you’re using it by the “secret agent” icon in the top left corner of the window.
In Incognito Mode, Chrome won’t keep track of the pages you visit, the data you enter into forms, or any searches you submit. However, it’s worth noting that Incognito mode only prevents Chrome from saving your site visit activity. It won’t stop other sources from seeing what sites you’ve visited, including: your ISP; your employer (if you’re using a work computer); and the websites you visit themselves.
If you use Chrome’s Incognito Mode to download files, the browser won’t remember what files you download, but those files will stay on your computer after you close the Incognito tab. You’ll have to manually delete them from your hard drive if you don’t want anyone to see them.
Microsoft Internet Explorer and Edge
Internet Explorer and Edge’s private browsing mode comes in the form of InPrivate browsing. To access this, select the More icon, which is displayed as three small dots in the top right of the window, and then select New InPrivate window.
As with Chrome, the same search history isn’t saved, such as temporary internet files like cookies, browsing history, form data, and downloaded files and bookmarks stick around even after you close the InPrivate window.
Microsoft’s browsers also disable any third-party toolbars you might have installed when you start an InPrivate session.
Mozilla’s private browsing feature in FireFox is simply called ‘Private Browsing mode’ and offers the same privacy tools as Chrome and Edge. However, FireFox offers an additional tool that others browsers don’t to make browsing even more safe, and that’s called Tracking Protection. This is said to prevent companies from tracking your browsing history across multiple sites so they can’t record your browsing habits.
There are two ways to open a new Private Window in FireFox.
You can either click the menu button, which is presented as three horizontal bars in the top right corner of the window, and then click New Private Window. Or you can open a link in a new Private Window by right-clicking on any link and choose Open Link in New Private Window from the context menu.
Once in Private Browsing mode, the browser window will have a purple mask at the top.
To enable Private Browsing in Apple’s Safari browser, simply go to File > New Private Window. A window that’s using Private Browsing has a dark Smart Search field with white text.
Safari’s private browsing mode also removes temporary files when you close the window. Browsing history, form data, and cookies are all wiped by default.
Opera is a noteworthy browser when it comes to surfing privately on the web because, unlike its rivals, its Private Mode offers a VPN connection to add another layer of secrecy to your browsing activities. It’s not a silver bullet in keeping your activities totally private, but it does provide additional protection.
To enable this feature, you can either go through the menu: File > New Private Window. Or, you can use keyboard shortcuts: Ctrl+Shift+N for Windows and ⌘+Shift+N for Mac.