How much does Google Chrome’s Incognito Mode Hide?

by Sarah Yasin
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Privacy has become a luxury only a few can afford. You could be browsing through websites or scrolling through your social media feed and you’d probably get the eerie feeling of being watched.

There are certain steps one can take to ensure his/her information stays safe online. One of the easiest one to work with is Google Chrome’s Incognito Mode for private browsing.

However, many people are misinformed about the way Incognito mode works. Some of you might be trusting it a bit too much. Before we start let’s take a look at how we can access incognito mode.

How to Access Incognito Mode

You can access Incognito Mode by following the steps below:

  • Go to the top-right corner of your Chrome bar and tap the three dots you see.
  • Here you’ll see an option ‘New Incognito Window’. Tap on it and a new window will appear.
  • You can also do this by pressing Ctrl + Shift + N through your keyboard.
  • You’ll notice the Incognito symbol in the middle of the screen once it opens up with the message ‘You’ve gone incognito’.

In addition to this, you’ll see the following message: “Now you can browse privately, and other people who use this device won’t see your activity. However, downloads and bookmarks will be saved. Chrome won’t save the following:

  • Your browsing history
  • Cookies and site data
  • Information entered in forms

Your activity might still be visible to:

  • Websites you visit
  • Your employer or school
  • Your internet service provider”

This basically means that browsers will not store URLs of the websites you visit in your history. This is a great way to hide what you’ve been browsing from someone who has access to the same device as you. But this doesn’t make your activities entirely private. Your browser will also store cookies i.e. small data files that have multiple uses, for example, storing passwords, providing tracking information to advertising companies that want to see what you browse.

Here’s what you should know about Google Chrome’s Incognito Mode and its limits.

The Advantages of Going Incognito:

When Google says your ‘activity’ will be private what activity does this actually mean? This activity refers to the following types:

  • Browsing History: Google Chrome will usually keep track of the webpages you visit in the form of ‘History’. You can access it by pressing ‘Ctrl + H’. If you’ve synced your Google account to your browser, the history will be registered online and so whichever device you sync your Google account with will add to the same browsing history.

In Incognito mode, your history will no longer be stored and once you close the window all traces of the webpages you visited will be deleted. This means anyone who has access to the same device will not be able to see your browsing history.

  • Cookies and Site Data: Cookies are small bits of data sent from a website store onto a user’s computer by the web browser. They are designed for websites to remember information from a user’s activity or record the user’s browsing activity. Cookies can keep track of user sessions, site preferences, local settings and other vital functions of web applications.

Cookies will enable websites to show different content designated for different users. Whenever you log into an account online, the webserver will produce a cookie and send it to your browser. The browser stores the cookie and uses it to associate your application session with your user ID and show you content corresponding to your account.  Similarly, whenever you access a website through a website such as Facebook, Facebook will use your session cookie to trace you and send you targeted ads.

When you use Incognito mode, no cookies are stored. This is why if you try to open your Facebook profile you’ll have to login again with your password. You’ll be treated as a new user. One benefit here is that you browse through different pages without traceable cookies. Even if you do not log out of your account before closing your Incognito tab, the cookie associated with that session will be destroyed.

  • Information entered into forms: Sometimes you’d enter forms online which would require information such as your name, username, email address, contact numbers, etc. This information is then made available to other pages to make it easier to enter data in forms. The Incognito mode will delete all information you’ve entered in a form once you close it which will give you more privacy on shared computers.

The Limits of Going Incognito

Here are the areas where Google Chrome’s Incognito mode won’t provide you with privacy.

  • Websites Visited: We discussed cookies storing your information before, but there are other bits of information that can track your device. There may still be websites that keep track of IP addresses, device types, device ID and browser types/versions, etc. This information can be used to link your activity to your account even in Incognito Mode. Facebook, for example, will even track your activity across other websites when you’re not logged in to your account.

  • Employer/School: If you’re using a corporate network/social network your data might be linked to a single gateway such as a router or a server. Anyone who has access to the gateway will have full access to your browsing activity, even in Incognito.
  • Your ISP: Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will also be able to trace all your browsing history and activity even if you’ve gone Incognito.
  • Bookmarks/Downloads: Anything you download or bookmark while in Incognito mode will be listed in your main browsers’ download and bookmarks tabs as well.

Alternative Forms of Online Anonymity

If you want to opt for other ways besides using the Incognito function you can use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) or Tor, which will route your information through intermediaries. VPN’s will essentially encrypt your internet traffic and channel it through a VPN server in such a way that your ISP won’t be able to see what you’re looking up online.

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