Chrome's Incognito mode is touted as a way for consumers to use the browser with added privacy. What you might not realize, however, is that the privacy provided by Incognito mode is extremely specific and limited in its scope.
When people use Incognito mode they often believe that it is preventing Google from tracking their searches. They may also incorrectly presume that Incognito mode prevents Google and the websites they visit from detecting their IP address. Unfortunately, this is not what Incognito mode does.
In this guide, we will explain exactly what Incognito mode does to provide privacy. And we will explain Incognito's limitations – so that you are not misled about how it works – and so that you can learn how to gain additional privacy online.
Does Incognito hide your IP address?
Your IP address is a digital address that can be used to figure out who (and where) you are. It is an important piece of personally identifiable data that can be used to track you each time you return to a website or service. This allows websites to track you over time, which is why many people want to conceal this identifier from the websites they visit.
When people use Incognito mode, they are often under the impression that the websites they visit will not be able to tell who or where they are. This assumption often leads consumers to believe that Incognito mode is preventing websites from detecting their IP address. Unfortunately, this is incorrect.
Incognito mode cannot conceal your IP address from the websites you visit. To achieve this, you will need to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
A VPN is an online service that encrypts your internet traffic and sends it to a VPN server in a remote location. This conceals your real IP address from the online services you visit by replacing it with the IP address of the VPN server. One of the great advantages of this is that you can use a VPN to pretend to be in a different place.
By encrypting your data and handling your DNS requests, a VPN also protects your online habits from being snooped on by local network administrators, public Wi-Fi hotspots, Internet Service Providers, and government agencies. Thus, a VPN not only conceals your IP address but also prevents any real-time monitoring of your online habits.
If you are new to the concept of VPNs and what they can do, we recommend that you read our VPN beginner's guide.
What does Incognito mode do?
Although the privacy benefits of Incognito mode are limited, they are still useful if you understand them properly. Below we have listed exactly what Incognito mode does.
Incognito gives you a fresh browser instance each time you launch it. This fresh instance of the Chome browser is completely unaffected by any existing cookies that may have been installed in the primary browser.
Using Incognito allows you to visit websites without being affected by cookies and trackers that have made their way onto your system previously.
This gives you a clean slate for the duration of the Incognito session, which prevents the website from leveraging previously installed cookies to ascertain who you are and what you might be doing on the site. This removes a significant layer of tracking.
In addition to preventing you from being tracked with previously installed cookies, Incognito mode prevents cookies from building up on your system. Each time that you end an Incognito session, the cookies installed during that session are deleted.
That said, it is important to note that while Incognito mode remains open, cookies and site data will be remembered for the duration of the session. That site data and tracking info is only deleted when you choose to exit Incognito mode; which allows you to stay logged in to any websites services you want to use as long as you keep the Incognito window open. Check out our how to delete cookies in all browsers guide for an explanation of how to remove them.
The second privacy advantage of using Incognito mode, is that it will prevent what you do online from being cataloged in your browser's History. This provides additional privacy by ensuring that any web visits and searches you make during a browsing session are not persistently logged.
This provides a useful advantage for anybody using somebody else's computer, or who is performing searches on a shared machine. By leveraging Incognito mode, the user can be sure that whatever they do online will not be logged in the browser when they end the session.
Incognito mode is handy if you're using the browser to engage in personal web use, that you want to keep private, and that you want to be absolutely certain it won't accumulate in the browser's history. This includes not only the deletion of the website visits they made, but also the deletion of any site data that could accidentally leave them logged into a personal account (whether that be a social media account, email account, or any other personal account).
When you exit an Incognito session all the site data and usage information is removed, which means that you are automatically logged out permanently of any personal services or accounts you may have logged into.
Head over to our is incognito mode private guide for more information about these services.
Can Google tell what I am doing online when I use Incognito mode?
It is important to remember that Incognito mode is primarily designed to stop your history from accumulating on your device. As a result, the data that leaves your computer and travels over the local network and onto the internet can still be tracked.
This means that any website visits you make on the computer can still be tracked by local network administrators, ISPs, and even Google if you choose to use Google services such Google search.
As mentioned, Incognito mode does not conceal your IP address from the websites you visit. This means that Google can track your IP address and link any Google searches you make to you. As a result, Google can still engage in tracking for marketing and profiling purposes.
The only way to conceal your IP address from Google and prevent this tracking is to use a VPN. What's more, a VPN also encrypts your data as it passes over the local network and through your ISP's gateway servers. This ensures that whatever you do online cannot be tracked by the local network admin (whether you are at work, in school, or using public Wi-Fi, for example).
Have you considered using a privacy browser?
If you're fed up with Google's data-hungry and invasive practices, then you'll be glad to know there are plenty of alternatives to choose from. Hit the buttons below if you want to find out what the best alternative browsers and search engines are.
Browser fingerprinting works by tracking details about your system such as your Operating System, the drivers installed on your computer, the software installed on your computer, the browser extensions you have installed, the hardware on your computer, your time zone, your default language, and more.
To gather the data they need to engage in browser fingerprinting, websites use scripts embedded in the site. Once they have acquired your unique fingerprint, website owners and ad networks share that data to perform cross-site tracking. Unfortunately, using Incognito mode does not prevent this kind of fingerprinting.
Many people are confused about what Chrome Incognito (and Firefox private browsing mode) actually does. This results in consumers using Incognito mode in ways that are unsafe. It also leads many internet users to believe they are getting additional privacy that they are not receiving.
In this article, we have explained what Incognito mode actually does. We have listed its limitations, and we have explained how to conceal your IP address from the websites you visit by using a VPN.
It is important to remember that Incognito mode cannot prevent websites from tracking your IP address. So if you want to protect this vital piece of information, you'll need to invest in one of the best VPNs.