Using your web browser’s private or ‘incognito’ mode can be a very useful tool, but you should be aware of what is and isn’t being hidden during this process.
When you launch a private window there are a number of things that stay hidden. Your web searches, the pages you visit and cookies will not stay on your computer once you close your private tabs or windows. This can be great if you are searching for a loved one’s present and don’t want to give away any hints next time they sit down at the computer and do a web search.
Using your browser’s private mode is a great way to view a page without being logged in to your accounts. However, if you do log in while in private mode then those web sites will still be able to track your activity.
So even if you log in privately to an account you share with someone in your house, such as Amazon, your search will be tracked. Amazon still knows what you searched for and may place advertising on your shared account to match similar searches at a later stage. This may thwart any attempts to keep your present buying a secret.
Also, just because you are hiding what you are looking at from your computer, there are still many other points where people will be able to see your browsing information.
Even though you are in private mode, information is still being carried between your computer and the internet. That means your internet service provider (ISP) will still be able to track what web sites you visit. Any point outside of your computer (routers and remote servers) will still be able to track your web habits.
This means that if you are downloading movies or music illegally your ISP will still be able to see your activity even if you are using private or ‘incognito’ mode.
A 2015 study also found that a number of browser extensions and add-ons didn’t honour the rules of private mode and were still able to track your movements online. One of the reasons Google Chrome’s incognito mode is superior to most browsers is that it disables extensions when you want to go private.
If you truly want to keep your internet searches private, you will need to consider a virtual private network (VPN) to protect your information.