Author: Collins Okoth
Thursday, June 10, 2021

Does private browsing actually work?

Category: Security

With today's advanced technology, targeted ads and recommendation algorithms leave no space for privacy online. In line with this, you could expect your 'private' surfing through incognito mode to stay private, whereby you can remain anonymous. However, it most certainly doesn't work like that.

Locking into private mode could assist you in keeping small amounts of the information secret and others not so private. Hence, it is important to know what it erases and what it keeps from your computer. Knowing exactly how private browsing works, you can make the most out of what is offered. Let's dive in:

Private Browsing in Detail

Does private browsing actually work?

First, you have to go into the details of private browsing to understand how it operates. A private mode is an input to minimize traces that every user leaves behind as they surf over the internet for a wide range of browsers. The browsers across different devices have different names, such as Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. 

Android owners can easily access incognito mode via the three small dots at the corner of the browser application. On a desktop, the easiest way to access the incognito mode is by pressing "Command+Shift+N" or "Control+Shift+N" on a Mac and PC, respectively. On Safari, one can access going to the bottom right and tapping on the private icon.

Misconceptions Surrounding Private Browsing

Private surfing is handy when you are not interested in your data being kept by sites that you visit over a session. However, the main issue with private browsing is the lack of knowledge that it is not anonymous.

An Avast study showed that 65% of the 10,000 participants thought that incognito mode on browsers would make them anonymous. They also said that their browsing history would remain away from the government eye and the whole internet community in general. 77% believed that the mode would warn them of threats, including illegal crypto mining and suspicious sites in incognito mode.

Of these, 21% considered private browsing a safe mode, showing the clear knowledge gap even in today's more advanced world. 

How Private Browsing Works

When surfing in incognito mode and exit the window, your activity on the browser is not recorded. That is to say that the search history, engaged cookies, your passwords, etc., are deleted. In short, every instance you click on a new incognito window, you open a blank slate that is not connected to your former internet activity. 

Does private browsing actually work?

That, however, does not entail that you won’t have a chance to download a file or save a site in incognito mode. You can also still add bookmarks, and they will stay stored on the browser.

Some of the browsers such as Firefox and Safari bring about more security against web trackers. However, nowadays, data mining and tracking go way beyond just one browser, and so this does not ensure that any prying eyes won’t trace what you surfed back to your browser, hence the device. 

Using Incognito Browsing While Browsing

Even if you might not be anonymous when you choose private browsing, it still comes in handy, and here are some better ways to utilize the mode:

Using a Borrowed Computer 

There are times that you might be far from your device and need to utilize another one that is not yours. While you are using the new device, it helps to be certain that it will not store your private information, which someone else can access.

Log in to Several Email Accounts

As a web user, you have encountered instances where you might need to look into your inbox while using a different email account. Instead of going about the hassle of logging out, logging into your account, or through different browsers, incognito mode comes in handy.

Getting Gifts

Targeted ads could ruin online shopping for gifts if you meant the gift as a surprise. In case you are wondering, here is how.

Whenever you shop or browse for something online, the search engine keeps everything you look at. Later on, ads similar to the various items you looked at will start popping, asking you to look at similar products or check out the item. Although, normally, these ads are not just for your eyes; if the person you intended to buy that present comes on your device, they can view the adverts. It will give them clues, destroying the surprise.

Booking for Travel

If you have ever browsed a travel company, left the site, and checked after a while but saw that the prices had risen, this one is yours. Traveling companies maintain tabs based on things you have looked into and then hike costs when you return to the site. When surfing in incognito mode, this will remain the least of your worries. 

Online shopping stores also use this technique, not just travel companies. They hike prices when you leave and come back later to purchase it.

Exploring New Things

Browsers work so that their suggestions for music, movies, books, and such, are based on previous activity. 

Trying new things that are not in your comfort zone hence proves to be a hard task. However, you can gain a whole better perspective on things you could enjoy in incognito mode. You might never know what new things you might discover.

Viewing a Site as an Outsider

Still, on the issue of gaining a new perspective, you could use some insight on your created site and view how it appears to other people. It could even help you improve on the design and interaction levels with interested parties to make them stay on your website longer.

Researching on Sensitive Topics

There are times when you may be interested in researching rather sensitive issues, and you do not wish to enter them into the search space. 

You can save yourself the embarrassment or even keep confidential medical data protected.

How to Browse Privately

Does private browsing actually work?

Since trying to browse privately on incognito mode is not a good idea, you'll need to be more creative if you don't want to get tracked. To achieve this, you need to make sure that your browser is not the one masking the internet you are using but is routed anonymously. Here are a few pointers:


Virtual Private Networks allow seeing that there is a safe network connection when joining public networks, among other uses. They personate your online identity, making sure that it is hard for other parties to access your information when online. In turn, this puts your mind at ease as you can go about surfing without giving anything away.

Nowadays, most devices come with VPN solutions and are available on both Mac and PCs. There are also many VPN connection providers for smartphones which you can find on the Play Store or App Store. Before you make any decision, however, ensure that you have done enough research on the providers.

Tar Browser

The browser, supported by Tor Project, is a popular platform for those who want to keep their online data private. Interestingly, you could also utilize it to gain access to the Dark Web. So even though you will not use it to keep illegal activity secret, it gives anonymity.

When using Tor, it is difficult for the government and ISPs to get the data source as the connection is bounced across multiple computer networks.

The disadvantage of the browser is that your connection will be quite slow. However, if you have the patience, the browser is perfect for you. You must also know that many popular web services deny access to Tor mostly without substantial error notifications.


If you are only concerned about ad trackers and do not want full privacy, the platform is what you need. 

It is specifically tailored to provide privacy without keeping tabs on your data and giving out sensitive information. To enhance the privacy feature, use the normal incognito mode on your browser and integrate it with DuckDuckGo.

However, make sure that none of your social networks are logged in as they can track your online activity.


As browsers are trying to maintain online data private, their current incognito or private modes are not helpful. However, you can implement VPNs or private browsers specially designed to counter attacks and protect your data from trackers.

The incognito or private browsing mode was introduced to privatize your personal history in such a way that other folks who might log in to your device will not get to see it. Unfortunately, despite popular belief, it does not ensure complete anonymity on the web. The best part, though, is that you can still use it for other uses, such as using public computers, buying gifts, and researching, among others.

As you venture more into ways to keep your information safe, you may come across secure browsers. For a heads up, they make claims on providing more security to make it hard for anyone to get into your device, a feature that is not available in a private browser. What you should keep in mind is that many of them are open-source, and hence the privacy they promise may not be so private after all.

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