How to use your browser's private mode

There are many different ways to surf more securely, for example via VPNs or proxies, but these measures are a bit rigorous. By using the incognito mode of your browser you can go a long way. In this article, we'll explain how your browser's private mode works.

All known browsers have such a mode. There are minor differences, but basically they all work the same: they make sure you don't have to worry about your search and browsing history. How do you use private mode, and what exactly does it do? And what is the risk?

Chrome

Chrome's private mode is called Incognito and can be accessed by pressing Ctrl + Shift + N to push. You can also go to via the hamburger menu at the top right New incognito window to go. A new window will then open, which has a doll with a detective hat and sunglasses in the tab bar.

You will immediately see a warning here, which hits the board well. In principle, your search and browsing history and cookies are not saved. However, there are some snags: for example, your employer can still keep track of which sites you visit and websites can still retrieve information from you without your knowledge. So do not rely on it blindly (see also box below).

The main feature of Incognito mode is of course not saving your browsing history, but there is more. Cookies are not saved, which may be desirable in some cases, and your search history within, for example, Google is also forgotten as soon as you close Chrome. Downloaded files are not shown in the Chrome download folder itself, but will of course remain visible on your computer.

Firefox

The function in Firefox works almost the same. You open a private window by pressing Ctrl + Shift + P or by pressing from the hamburger menu New private window to click. You can see that you are in a private window by the purple mask that appears in the tab bar.

Firefox gives an even clearer overview of what does and does not fall under private mode. It's the same as with Chrome: History, searches, cookies and temporary files are not saved. Just like with Chrome, downloaded files are not shown within Firefox itself (only after you close the private window).

Within Firefox you can also request a security report for a few months to gain more insight into which parties are following you online. This report can be found by clicking the new shield icon next to the lock in the browser's search bar. You will find the report at the bottom of the page. You can also see which social media and third-party cookies are currently blocked on a particular site.

A handy extra addition to Firefox's private mode is blocking pages that track your activity. There are plenty of apps and extensions to block these so-called trackers, but Firefox is now taking the reins by doing that itself in private mode. It's enabled by default, so you don't need to do anything for it.

Other browsers

In other browsers, the mode works almost the same, although there are minor differences. In Internet Explorer, the mode is called InPrivate. You open a private window with Ctrl + Shift + P. Browsing, search and download history is now not tracked, and cookies are not saved. The same goes for Microsoft Edge.

Opera then works the same as Chrome: With Ctrl + Shift + N open a new private window that deletes temporary files and history from your PC after you close the private windows. In Safari, the mode is activated with Command + Shift + N.

You are not invisible

As convenient as such a private mode may be, it is not a license to become inattentive. First, your surfing behavior is only invisible to people who later want to check what you have done: it offers no protection against real-time viewing by your boss, provider or shady websites themselves. It has also been shown several times that traces of files are still stored on your PC. Chrome may still save some information as searches if you're signed in with your Google account. And who knows which leaks and backdoors are still undiscovered. So always pay attention.

Alternatives

In recent years, more and more browsers have emerged that have highlighted privacy as a unique selling point. Those browsers, for example, automatically delete all data when you close them, or by default protect themselves against cookies and trackers. Epic Privacy Browser even offers its own proxy that allows you to move around the internet fairly unrecognizable. Tor Browser does something similar.

In combination with a VPN connection, with these options you are pretty sure that you will be difficult to trace. However, if you just want to quickly look up something without letting Google know, then the private mode of the well-known browsers is more than sufficient.

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