Ask LH: What’s The Point Of Incognito Mode And Other ‘Secret’ Browsers?

Ask LH: What’s The Point Of Incognito Mode And Other ‘Secret’ Browsers?

Dear Lifehacker, I’ve noticed that most internet browsers have a “secret” or “incognito” mode in their options. I was just wondering what the benefits of using this mode are? Does it hide my browsing history from everyone, or just people who use my computer? Thanks, Not Asking For Porn

Dear NAFP,

In short, the latter. Opening a tab in Chrome’s incognito mode allows you to browse as normal, but without saving any of the sites you visit. Once you close the tab, there will be no evidence left behind in your browser’s history, including cookies and any files you’ve downloaded. However, this does not mean that there is no evidence anywhere.

Your internet service provider will still have a record of your browsing activity as will the websites themselves. Naturally, downloaded files will also remain visible in the folder where you saved them.

“Secret” browsing modes are not meant to anonymise you from the world at large — if they did, Australia’s data retention scheme would be even more useless than it already is. Instead, they hide your browsing activity from the computer you’re using.

With that said, there are still circumstances where private browsing can prove quite handy. For example, if a friend or family member wanted to use your computer, activating incognito mode will allow them to log into their email and social media sites without logging you out first. It can also protect you against websites that try to cache data on your hard drive.

It’s also a handy safeguard when shopping for Christmas presents online — private browsing will ensure the products don’t “helpfully” pop up in targeted advertisements to other family members. You can find a swathe of other uses for private browsing here. While it won’t protect you from snooping eyes completely, it’s definitely more than just a porn mode!


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