Incognito Mode: What is It? Does It Make You Anonymous?

Anonymous icon, question mark in a circle, browser icon and magnifier on a light background
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Summary: How Anonymous is Incognito Mode?

Most browsers have an incognito mode. When you use it, your browser won’t store any information about the websites you visit.

This provides you with a little bit of extra online privacy but isn’t enough if you want to surf the web securely and privately.

If you want to browse more anonymously, we recommend taking the following precautions:

  • Use a trustworthy, reliable VPN. We recommend NordVPN, because it’s reliable and fast.
  • Use the Tor browser.
  • Don’t log in to any online accounts if you want to keep a session anonymous.
  • Use an anonymous search engine.
  • Avoid creating bookmarks.

Want to know more about the incognito mode and anonymous browsing? Read our full article below to have all your questions answered.

The Incognito Mode or Private Browsing mode is a standard feature in every mainstream internet browser. First popularized by Google Chrome, Incognito Mode makes it easy to browse the web without recording any history or cookies.

It’s great for when you’re visiting sites that you don’t want others to know about, or when you’re accessing personal email or websites on a public computer where you don’t want to leave any history behind.

Most people think that Incognito Mode is completely anonymous, but that’s obviously not true. There is always some information that websites can track, even if you’re in Incognito.

We can already tell you that the incognito mode is not as anonymous as you might think. If you really want to be anonymous online, you’ll be far better off using a VPN service.


What is Incognito Mode?

Incognito mode iconThe term “incognito” means to conceal one’s identity. When you enable Incognito Mode, Google Chrome prevents sites from using tracking cookies and doesn’t record any browsing history. In practice, however, it doesn’t fully conceal your identity.

At the very least, with Incognito Mode you don’t have to regularly delete your internet history, cookies, or temporary internet files.

However, that’s where most of the benefits stop. Incognito Mode won’t help you browse the internet anonymously. At least not by itself.

For starters, Incognito Mode simply doesn’t save your browsing information. Websites can still track your IP address, operating system, your browsing behavior, and other details that they can use to identify you.

Incognito Mode just doesn’t save information on the computer. It doesn’t prevent websites from tracking you while you’re browsing a site. If the site’s using tracking technologies, they will be able to see and track you.

Moreover, the incognito mode only ensures that data isn’t stored on your computer: it doesn’t restrict websites from tracking you.

How do I go incognito on my browser?

Most browsers these days include an Incognito Mode. This is sometimes also referred to as an incognito screen, a private screen, or Private Mode.

The table below shows you how to start incognito mode on your PC or laptop when you’re using Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Brave, or Safari.

BrowserMouseKeyboard
ChromeSettings (top right) & New Incognito WindowCtrl + Shift + N
EdgeSettings (top right) > New InPrivate WindowCtrl + Shift + P
FirefoxSettings (top right) > New Private WindowCtrl + Shift + P
BraveSettings (top right) > New Incognito WindowCtrl + Shift + N
SafariSettings (top right) > Private modeShift + Command + N

How to Open An Incognito Tab by Default

If you don’t want any cookies or history saved ever, you can choose to open your browser in private or Incognito Mode by default. Here are step-by-step guides for accessing it on each browser.

Google Chrome

With Google Chrome, you can set it up so that Incognito Mode launches by default every time you open your browser. Here’s how to open an incognito tab in Google Chrome by default:

  1. Right-click the Google Chrome shortcut. A menu will appear that includes your bookmarks, most visited websites, and so on.
  2. Google Chrome in taskbar highlighted
  3. Right-click the Google Chrome icon and select “Properties.”
  4. Google Chrome in taskbar with "Properties" highlighted
  5. Go to the “Target” text box. At the end of the “Target” field, add “-incognito” (outside the quotes and with a space just before them). This will likely look as follows: “C:\Program Files (x86)\Google\Chrome\Application\chrome.exe” -incognito.
  6. Google Chrome Properties with "Target:" highlighted
  7. Click on “Apply” at the bottom to save your changes.
  8. The next time you start Google Chrome, it’ll automatically start in incognito mode.

Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla Firefox also offers the option to enable the private window by default. Here’s how to turn on incognito mode in Mozilla Firefox:

  1. In Firefox, go to the menu by clicking the three lines in the top right of the browser.
  2. Firefox browser with the menu highlighted
  3. Choose “Settings“.
  4. Firefox menu with "Settings" highlighted
  5. Click the “Privacy & Security” tab on the left side of the window to access your privacy settings. Under “History,” click the “Firefox will” box and select “Use custom settings for history“. Multiple options will appear.
  6. Firefox settings "Privacy & Security" with "Use custom settings for history" highlighted
  7. Check “Always use private browsing mode“.
  8. Firefox settings with "Always use private browsing mode" highlighted
  9. You will be prompted to restart Firefox. Click “Restart Firefox now.”
  10. Restart Firefox message
  11. Firefox will now use the Private Browsing mode settings by default. The normal browser interface will be displayed and you won’t see any difference in the Firefox browser window.

Safari

The Safari browser on macOS also has an option that allows you to open a new incognito window. Check out this quick guide on how to open incognito mode in Safari:

  1. Open Safari and click on “Safari – Preferences” from the menu bar.
  2. Mac with "Safari" and "Preferences..." highlighted
  3. Under “General”, click the box “Safari opens with“.
  4. Safari General settings with "Safari opens with:" dropdown highlighted
  5. Select “A new private window.”
  6. Now, the browser will automatically launch in private mode.

Brave

And, if you use Brave, here’s how to set it up so that it always launches in Incognito Mode:

  1. Right-click on the Brave icon in your taskbar, then go to Properties from the icon that shows up.
  2. Brave in taskbar highlighted
  3. Go to “Properties.”
  4. Brave in taskbar with "Properties" highlighted
  5. Scroll to the text field “Target.” Add “-Incognito” behind Brave.exe.
  6. Brave Properties with "Target:" highlighted
  7. Click OK to save the changes.

How to Disable Incognito Mode by Default

Disable incognito mode iconJust follow the steps you took to enable incognito mode at browser startup, and undo the new options. For example, if you use Google Chrome, just delete what you pasted in the “Target” field.

If you use Firefox, go to your settings and make sure you uncheck “Always use private browsing mode.”

How to get out of incognito mode

If you just want to close the incognito tab you opened, close it as you would any app open on your device. For example, if you use a PC, here’s how to get out of incognito mode: press on the red X in the top-right corner of your screen.

Screenshot of Google Chrome, close up

How to turn off incognito mode in iPhone

To turn off incognito mode on iPhone, you’ll need to close the private browsing window/tabs you opened. This will depend based on the browser you used, but the process is largely the same.

Here’s what you need to do to turn off incognito mode on iPhone:

  1. Open your browser.
  2. Click on the Tabs button.
  3. Click on Private to display the private tabs you opened.
  4. Tap the number of Tabs.
  5. Press “Done“.
  6. This should close all incognito mode tabs on Safari, and end your private browsing session.

Local vs. Online Anonymity

Local anonymity iconWhen talking about anonymous browsing, it’s important to make a distinction between local and online anonymity.

The difference between the two depends on the place where your online activities are saved. This can happen both on your own computer or others, such as websites or data analysis tools.

Local anonymity means that your online history, preferences, cookies, and so on are not stored on your local device. This makes you “anonymous” on the computer you’re using.

Online anonymity means that this information isn’t stored or tracked by websites, cookies, government agencies, hackers, search engines, internet service providers, browser extensions, and others.

In other words, local anonymity means your data isn’t stored on your device while online anonymity means it isn’t tracked by remote parties.

Your browser’s Incognito Mode only gives you local anonymity. It keeps your online activities from being stored on your local device. However, it doesn’t keep you anonymous from entities that track traffic, such as government agencies, browser cookies, or ad trackers.

Your IP address, operating system, access location, and other information might still be available to the website, even when you’re browsing in incognito mode. For a good overview of parties that might be following you online, take a look at our article on who can see your browsing data.


Incognito Mode in Practice: A Concrete Example

Person hiding behind incognito mode browser windowPicture this: you want to buy some new clothes. You open your browser, launch an Incognito Window, and go to an online store’s website.

You browse the website for a while, going through several pages of clothing items and selecting different sizes. Unfortunately, you can’t find what you’re looking for, so you close the browser.

What information has been collected about you?

Since you used Incognito Mode, your internet history and cookies haven’t been stored on your device. The fact that you visited the store’s site, searched for apparel, or even added items to your cart – none of this information is stored on your device.

Should someone else get behind your computer, they won’t be able to see what you were looking for. As such, no one track that you visited this site based on your browser’s history.

But this doesn’t mean that the website you were browsing earlier doesn’t track your information. Incognito Mode doesn’t prevent them from tracking how you use their site.

During your entire session, your IP address was visible to your network administrator, your internet service provider, and asos.com. In other words: private browsing only helps you hide your online behavior for people using the same device, and not for parties who will be able to see your IP address anyway.


What is Incognito Mode Effective?

Infographic showing what does browser incognito mode do

The fact that other parties can see your IP address doesn’t mean that the incognito mode is completely useless. It’s a convenient extension of your browser to protect your local anonymity.

It works quickly and easily: once you’ve opened the incognito window, you’re good to go.

Incognito mode ensures that:

  • Your browser history isn’t stored: the websites you visit won’t be stored on the computer or in the browser, and neither will your search history. This is also useful when you’re on a public computer.
  • The cookies you use while browsing the internet are deleted after you close the browser window.
  • The information you enter in online forms (usernames, passwords, etc.) won’t be stored on your computer. However, websites can still save that information on their server.
  • You might be able to get around paywalls since no cookies are stored on your browser. However, this is very unlikely, since most websites now use IP addresses for tracking.

How do cookies work?

Cookies constantly collect data about your browsing behavior without you noticing it. For example, cookies can see when you visit websites, which pages you look at, which search terms you use and what kind of products you buy.

Cookies might also be able to see your location, how long you stay on certain sections of a page and which ads are most effective. In this way, advertising companies can get a better picture of you as a potential customer.


What Can’t Incognito Mode Hide?

The most important element that incognito mode doesn’t hide, is your IP address. Your internet protocol (IP) address is both an identification and a localization tool. This address tells the internet exactly who and where you are.

Every device that has access to the internet has an IP address. You might see it as the digital equivalent of a post address for your device or router. When you visit a website, you actually submit a request to a web page to send information to your IP address.

Because every request over the internet is linked to an IP address, It’s easy to track someone’s online steps. The incognito mode won’t prevent your IP address from being linked to your online searches. Therefore, you’ll have to change or hide your IP address in some other way if you want a safer and more private online environment.

Your IP address is easy to trace

Location pin with question mark icon with IP address patternThe incognito mode doesn’t hide your internet activity from parties who can see your IP address. These parties include websites you visit, your internet provider, or the administrator of the network (e.g. your employer). If you go to your Facebook account on your work computer in private mode, your employer can still see this.

Even government agencies might be able to track your online activities. Some official organizations can go to an ISP (Internet Service Provider) to request the internet history and name and address details of specific IP addresses. This information can then also be shared with other governments.

However, ISPs aren’t always required to provide user name and address information to third parties. Some recent lawsuits have shown this to be the case.

If, while browsing in a private window, you’re still sharing your internet behavior and personal information with websites, ISPs, employers, and network operators, your online anonymity isn’t well-protected. That’s why it’s much better to use a VPN to protect your online anonymity. If not, use one of these best proxy sites to mask your IP.


What Can’t Incognito Mode Hide?

In addition to the fact that the Incognito Mode only ensures local anonymity, there are a number of specific situations in which it won’t work either.

For example, your computer might store information, even when you’re private browsing, when:

  • You add bookmarks (favorites) or download files.
  • Parental control software has been installed on the device.
  • Your computer is infected with spyware.
  • You log on to certain websites such as Google or Facebook.
  • Websites use “browser fingerprinting”.

Let’s dig deeper.

Bookmarks and downloads

Everything you download and all bookmarks you create during an incognito session will be stored on the computer. Don’t expect them to disappear once the session is over.


Parental control

Some people choose to set up parental control software on a shared computer. This allows parents to keep track of what web pages their children visit and, for example, what videos they watch on YouTube.

The incognito mode usually can’t hide browser history from this type of software. The software will pick up on everything regardless.


Spyware

Spyware is a form of malware that allows the owner of the spyware-infected devices to be spied on – usually without their knowledge. If there is spyware on your computer, it can, for example, record all your keystrokes or keep a log of all your internet activities. The incognito mode can’t stop this.


Logging in on websites

The moment you log in to a website, such as Google or Facebook, everything you do on that website (and often even beyond that website) can be traced. Gigantic platforms love gaining information about you.

When you log in to a personal account, all actions taken while using that account can be connected to each other, even when you use incognito mode.


Browser fingerprinting

Websites are getting more and more sophisticated each day, and some go to great lengths to identify visitors. Some have the ability to create a so-called “digital fingerprint” as you browse, even when you have adblockers or are in incognito mode.

Websites barely ever tell you when they are creating a profile on you. When you visit a website that partakes in browser fingerprinting, the website sends out a request for additional information to the browser.

This information can include data about your operating system, installed fonts, browser extensions, and many other identifying features.

These bits of information don’t reveal a lot about you by themselves. However, collectively, it’s possible to create a unique profile for almost every online visitor.

This doesn’t mean the website will know your identity, but they will likely assign you a profile number and be able to recognize you whenever you return to their website, even when you use incognito mode or a hidden IP address.

If you want to check whether browser fingerprinting can be used on you, you can visit Cover Your Tracks.

Should you be one of the people whose browser is susceptible to fingerprinting, one of the options you have is to install the Privacy Badger extension. This extension was developed by the same people as Cover Your Tracks and can be installed on Firefox, Opera, Chrome, Brave, Iridium, and Android.

Unfortunately, this will not solve the entire problem. The sad thing is that we have yet to figure out a foolproof way to counter browser fingerprinting.


How to Browse Anonymously

Infographic showing effective ways to browse anonymously

As discussed above, using only the incognito mode isn’t enough to be able to surf the internet anonymously. Here’s what else you can do to browse anonymously:

  • Installing and using a reliable VPN.
  • Using the Tor browser.
  • Not logging in to any unnecessary online platforms.
  • Using anonymous search engines such as DuckDuckGo.
  • Don’t bookmark pages.

Out of those, the most important and effective way to browse anonymously is to install and use a good VPN.


Anonymous Browsing with a VPN

VPNs encrypt all your internet traffic. They change your real IP address to the IP address of the VPN server, so your real address and location are no longer visible to the websites you visit.

In this way, a VPN allows you to surf more anonymously and securely, while incognito mode only ensures that your internet traffic isn’t stored on your own computer.

Infographic showing one of the ways to set-up a VPN connection

It’s very easy to set up a VPN connection:

  1. Get a VPN subscription with a VPN provider of your choice. We recommend NordVPN.
  2. Install the VPN software on your device.
  3. Launch the VPN software.
  4. Log in with the account you setup when you subscribed.
  5. Turn on the VPN and select the VPN server location you wish to use.
  6. You’re now protected by a VPN. From now on, all your internet traffic is encrypted and you’ll be able to browse anonymously.

One of the best VPN providers out there is NordVPN. By clicking the button below, you’ll automatically be sent to the official website of this provider. If you want something cheaper, or just different, don’t forget to check out our wide array of VPN reviews.

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Final thoughts

The incognito mode can help you make your internet behavior less visible to other users of your computer. However, it doesn’t make you anonymous on the internet.

In order to be able to surf the internet anonymously, you need to take other precautions, like installing the Tor browser. We highly recommend using NordVPN.

You can view Incognito mode (or private browsing) as an extra layer of local security on top of a range of other methods you can use to browse anonymously.

Incognito Mode: Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a question about the incognito mode of your device? You’ll find the most common questions listed below. Simply click on a question to read the answer.

Many browsers have an incognito mode that provides its user with more anonymity. When you open the private mode, you can browse the internet without your browsing behavior and internet data being tracked by the browser.

In other words: you won’t have to clear your own browsing history. However, using an incognito mode is absolutely not enough to be able to surf the internet anonymously.

The incognito mode ensures that:

  • Your browser history doesn’t keep track of anything: the websites you visit are not stored on the computer or in the browser.
  • The cookies you use while browsing will be deleted after you close your browser.
  • The information you enter in online forms is deleted after the internet session.

Using incognito mode isn’t enough to hide your IP address. It only ensures local anonymity. This means that using incognito mode won’t prevent other people from seeing your internet behavior. The websites you visit still see exactly what you do and who you are.

Also, the incognito mode doesn’t work if, for example, there is parental control on your device or your computer is infected with spyware.

Using just the incognito mode isn’t enough to enable you to surf the internet anonymously. If this is your goal, it’s important to take extra precautions. A number of actions will help:

  • Use a reliable VPN.
  • Use the Tor-browser.
  • Don’t log in on any platforms if you want to keep a session anonymous.
  • Use an anonymous search engine, such as DuckDuckGo.
  • Avoid creating bookmarks.

Incognito mode is not really private. It will maintain local anonymity for you, meaning that other users of the same device won’t see your history or track cookies.

But your activity, as well as your IP address, is still exposed to third parties from the internet like your ISP, government, or the website you visit.

Cybersecurity analyst
David is a cybersecurity analyst and one of the founders of VPNoverview.com. Since 2014 he has been gaining international experience working with governments, NGOs, and the private sector as a cybersecurity and VPN expert and advisor.
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  1. It’s only really useful for keeping websites out of your browsing history or logging into a single website on multiple accounts in the same web browser.

    • This is true, although there are some more ways in which using the incognito mode can be helpful. It can get you around paywalls and ensures that any cookies and online forms you filled in won’t be saved to your browser. Moreover, using incognito mode will keep your browser history private from anyone else using your computer.

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