Online companies, advertisers, and developers like to track your online activities and actions in order to serve you targeted ads. They do this by analyzing the cookies and other data generated as part of your browsing history. Naturally, many people balk at this tactic as an infringement of their online privacy.
To help you surf more privately, the major browsers all offer a private browsing option that will erase cookies and other tracking data once the browser window is closed. This prevents companies from capturing your browsing history.
Incognito mode isn’t perfect, since the websites you visit can still track you and your ISP can maintain a record of all the websites you browse.However, surfing the web in this mode is still one of the easiest ways to stay private online, especially since it’s simple to use and doesn’t require another program or service such as a VPN.
Here’s how to use a private browsing window in your favorite browser.
To open a page in incognito mode in Chrome, click the three-dot icon in the upper right and select New incognito window, or press Ctrl+Shift+N. A new window pops up with a dark theme and a notice: “You’ve gone incognito.” The fine print explains the pros and cons of incognito mode. By default, third-party cookies (which are used to track you across different sites) are disabled.
From here, you can open the web page you wish to visit in private and use it as you normally would. Any new tabs you launch for additional sites will continue to open in incognito mode. You can tell that you’re in incognito mode because the address field and title bar continue to appear with a dark theme, and an incognito icon displays in the upper right.
If you run into trouble fully using a specific site in incognito mode, try enabling third-party cookies to see if the problem is resolved.
You may find that one or more of your extensions are unavailable in incognito mode. This is because certain extensions can record your browsing history, so they’re disabled by default. If you need to use a specific extension while in incognito mode, click the three-dot icon and open More Tools > Extensions. Click the Details button for the extension and then turn on the switch for Allow in incognito.
When you’re done with incognito mode, click the incognito button in the upper right and select Close Incognito, or simply close your browser.
For the mobile version of Chrome, tap the three-dot icon in the top right (Android) or lower right (iOS) and select New Incognito Tab. The dark-themed “You’ve gone incognito” page explains how incognito mode works. You can then navigate the web like you would normally; an incognito icon will remain in the top toolbar during your session.
Those using an iPhone or iPad can tap the plus (+) icon to open new incognito tabs. Android users, though, will have to open the three-dot menu and choose New incognito tab. Tap the tab icon in the Chrome menu to view all your incognito tabs. Here, iPhone users can close out of them one-by-one or tap Close All. Android devices have an incognito mode notification in the pull-down settings menu. Click it to close all incognito windows.
To open a page privately in Firefox, click the hamburger menu in the top-right corner and select New Private Window. A page opens with a dark theme and a notice: “You’re in a private window.” To learn more about private browsing in Firefox, click the Common myths about private browsing link.
Open the web page you want to use in private mode. Each subsequent page you open in a new tab will be in private mode as well. As visual clues, the page title includes the phrase (Private Browsing), and a Private Browsing icon appears in the upper right.
Extensions in Firefox are turned off by default in Private Browsing Mode. To use a disabled extension in this mode, click the hamburger icon and go to Add-ons and Themes > Extensions. Click the ellipsis icon for the extension you want to enable and select Manage. Select Allow next to Run in Private Windows.
If you want to open a regular browsing window when still in Private Browsing Mode, open the hamburger menu and click New Window or press Ctrl+N. You can simply close the browsing window when it's time to end your private browsing session.
In mobile Firefox, tap the tab icon, then tap the mask icon to open Private Browsing Mode. Tap the plus (+) icon or Private icon to search in private. Follow those same steps to open additional pages in this mode.
To indicate that you’re surfing in private browsing mode, iOS displays the mask symbol near the tab number icon, iPadOS displays the mask symbol in the upper-left corner, and Android displays the address bar in purple.
In Edge, click the three-dot icon in the upper right and select New inPrivate Window, or press Ctrl+Shift+N. An InPrivate browsing page opens with a dark theme and details on what InPrivate browsing does and doesn’t do. An option lets you enable "Strict" tracking protection in InPrivate mode, which blocks most trackers but could prevent you from fully using certain sites.
Open the page you want to use privately. Each new tab you open will appear in InPrivate mode with the InPrivate icon displayed in the upper right. You can exit InPrivate mode and close all the private windows by clicking the InPrivate icon and selecting Close InPrivate window.
If you need to use an extension while in inPrivate mode, click the three-dot icon and go to Extensions. Click the Details link for the extension you want to enable and check the box for Allow in InPrivate.
In the Edge app, tap the tab icon and choose the InPrivate heading. Tap the plus (+) icon to open any new pages you wish to view in InPrivate mode. Edge indicates that a page is being viewed in InPrivate mode through a blue icon at the left edge of the address bar.
Return to the InPrivate tab page and tap Close all to exit all InPrivate browsing sessions.
To open a page privately in Safari on macOS, click File > New Private Window, or press Shift+Command+N. The resulting page tells you that private browsing is enabled and displays the address field with a gray background. Be careful here; if you have dark mode on, there will be no clear way to tell the difference between a private browsing window and a regular window.
Open to the page you want to view privately. Each new tab you open will continue to be in private mode. When finished, close down Safari to exit Private Browsing.
For Safari on your iPhone or iPad, tap the tab icon, then select Private. At the Private Browsing Mode page, tap the plus (+) icon to open a new private browsing tab. From there, you can tap the tab icon and then the plus (+) icon to open any further pages in private browsing mode. Each page you open this way displays the address bar with a gray background.
You can switch back and forth between private and regular browsing. Tap the tab icon and tap Private to make the switch. All tabs will remain open until you manually close them.
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