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Incognito mode: what it is and how to use it

by | Jan 7, 2022


You may have heard of incognito mode or private browsing but not understood what the option is or know how to use it. If you ever use public computers at a library or school to log into your private accounts or share a computer at home or work, you should consider private browsing. Incognito mode prevents your personal logins and passwords from showing up on public or shared devices, keeping your accounts more secure and your search history private. Keep reading for a more in-depth explanation of what incognito mode is, how to use it, and the benefits of private browsing.

A woman uses her internet browser at work.

What is incognito mode?

When you use the internet, most web browsers keep a record of your online activity by default. Your stored history can easily be found and revisited. However, you may not always want your search history or the websites you’ve visited recorded. Most browsers give you the option to temporarily stop recording your history by using incognito mode. This tool keeps the web pages you visit private from other people using the same device. It keeps your search history and saved passwords hidden from other users. However, your employer or school may still be able to see your online activity if your device is property of or connected to their WiFi.

Depending on your web browser of choice, the name of the tool will differ. For example, Google Chrome calls the function Incognito Mode while Safari’s mode is named Private Browsing. Typically, the incognito mode will function the same no matter what browser you use.

How to use incognito mode

The method of opening a private browser window will vary based on your computer and preferred browser. To get started, follow these steps for your browser of choice.

  • Google Chrome: Select “New Incognito window” from the File menu or press Ctrl+Shift+N together.
  • Safari: Select “New private window” from the File menu or press Ctrl+Shift+P together.
  • Microsoft Edge: Click on the Settings and more menu indicated by the three dots in the upper right corner of the browser. Select “New InPrivate window.”
  • Mozilla Firefox: Select “Start Private Browsing” from the menu in the upper right corner or press Ctrl+Shift+P together.

A woman uses her laptop and chats on the phone. Her browser is in incognito mode, and she's on a VPN.

The benefits of incognito mode

When using a public computer, a private browser can keep your personal information secure. If you share a device with family members or colleagues, incognito mode can also keep search history and passwords private. If you value privacy more generally, a private browser will also limit the amount of data that companies collect about you.

Incognito mode also has benefits that go beyond privacy. If you need to take a screen capture of something for work or a school project, using a private browser will keep your screen clear of saved bookmarks and other personal information. Typically, your previous browsing history and other online activity influence your search results. Using incognito mode allows you to conduct clean searches on the internet that aren’t influenced by these factors.

A man browses the internet using an incognito browser.

Final considerations

Browsing privately may not always be necessary, but it’s a useful way to keep your information private on shared devices. Remember that using a private browser won’t make you completely invisible. Your browser won’t save visited pages, search bar entries or newly created passwords, but it will keep track of any bookmarks and downloaded material. Your internet search provider and employer will still be able to track your activity.

Incognito mode also has security limitations that you should consider—it does not protect your computer from malware or scams. You should always follow cybersecurity procedures, even when using a private browser. Explore articles on the CenturyLink blog for more online privacy tips.

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