Private browsing, also known as incognito mode in Chrome, is a feature of all modern browsers. It hides certain information about your browsing session, but what is this mode practical for?
Let's look at private browsing to see what it offers, and examine some uses for the feature.
What Does Private Browsing Do?
Private browsing opens a special window that does not save any data from your browsing session. You can use it like a normal window, opening multiple tabs and accessing your bookmarks. But once you close an incognito window, almost everything you did in that window is erased.
A private window won't save any browsing history, cookies, saved site data, or information you fill into forms. This means that someone else on your computer can't see what you were doing, and your browser won't save sensitive info like your address that you filled into a form.
Some information is still saved, however. If you download any files, they will remain on your computer. This also applies to browser bookmarks you create while in private mode.
Because a private window doesn't keep any browsing data, each one you open is essentially a fresh session that's never been online before. This means that websites don't know who you are if you don't sign into them. You'll need to sign into any accounts to use them, and once you close the incognito window, those sessions end. Even checking Keep me logged in won't do anything, since incognito mode doesn't save cookies.
However, you are not totally invisible when using private browsing. Your ISP, as well as the manager of your network, can still see your browsing traffic. Also, if you log into websites while incognito, they'll know who you are at that point.
To start a private browsing window, click the browser's menu icon, which usually appears at the top-right. You can also use a keyboard shortcut; it's Ctrl + Shift + N in Chrome, or Ctrl + Shift + P in Firefox.
Uses for Private Browsing
Now that you know what private browsing does, what can you use it for? Let's discuss some ways to use it to your advantage.
1. Easily Log Into a Secondary Account
Say you're working on something with a co-worker at your desktop and they need to log into their email to retrieve a file relevant to the discussion. Assuming you were logged into your email in your browser, you'd have to log out of your account and let them log in. Then when they were done, you'd have to log them out and log back into your own account.
This is clunky; using an incognito window is much better. By simply opening a private window and navigating to your email service, your co-worker could log into his account, get what he needs, and then just close the incognito window. You wouldn't need to worry about leaving your account at all.
2. Avoid Online Personalization
Lots of online services personalize results based on your preferences. If you need to see what comes up on Google from a fresh profile, using a private window is an easy way to confirm your account isn't affecting anything.
Private windows also come in handy when you don't want a search to affect your personalized results. Perhaps you want to look up a song that someone sent you on YouTube. You probably don't want music from that genre flooding your recommendations if you don't like it, so running the search in a private window prevents that search and video view from influencing your account.
3. Protect Your Browsing on Shared Computers
If you have to use a public computer in a location like a hotel, you don't want other people to see what you were doing. Opening a private window is an easy way to hide your history from anyone who uses the machine afterward.
Of course, this won't completely protect your safety when using a public PC, but it prevents snoopers from easily checking what you did.
4. Easily Browse Without Extensions
Browser extensions have lots of uses, but they can also cause issues. It's important to be careful about the extensions you use to avoid security or privacy concerns, but extensions can cause less serious problems too. Sometimes, an installed extension will block a website, break some element of the page, or otherwise cause it to misbehave.
When this happens, checking for extension interference is wise, but it's tedious to disable them one by one. Since extensions are disabled in incognito mode in most browsers, opening a private window lets you easily see if extensions are interfering with a website. If it works in incognito but not a regular window, an extension is probably messing with the site.
Private Browsing Is a Useful Tool
You might not use private browsing often, but it's useful in a variety of situations. Having a fresh, easily disposable browser window is always a click away; you'll probably come up with even more uses for the feature.
Speaking of browsers, you might like the revamped version of Microsoft Edge if you haven't checked it out already.