Google Chrome Incognito Browsing Mode
You may or may not have heard of Google Chrome's 'Incognito Mode' – if you have, it's not really that surprising because Google have promoted this heavily. And if you haven't, not to worry as we’re going to take a close look at what it is. The Google Chrome Incognito Mode allows you to browse the internet – just as it sounds – anonymously. Google has been trumpeting this new development as they claim it's really easy to open a window that is incognito – yet still use the regular method of browsing in the other windows you have open. But is this completely true? And just how incognito, or secret, is the mode? For example, is it as secure as using a VPN to ensure that your browsing stays private?
Let's take a look, but first, how do you use Google Chrome Incognito Mode?
Google claim that when in Incognito Mode all of the websites you visit as well as any files that you download will not be saved either in your browsing history, or your download history, respectively. In addition to this all of the cookies from that browsing session are deleted once you have closed the incognito browser window. However the changes that are applied to your bookmarks and general settings ARE saved.
So how do you open an incognito browser? It's pretty simply: you simply go to the Google Chrome menu and choose 'incognito window'. An icon will then appear to show that the browser window is in Incognito Mode; i.e. cookies will be deleted and history or downloads will not be saved.
Keyboard shortcuts to open a Google Chrome Incognito Mode window
- If you're using Windows XP/7, Linux and Chrome OS: Ctrl+Shift+N
- If you're using Windows 8: use the Easy Window Switcher
- If you're using Mac: ⌘-Shift-N
So just how safe is the Google Incognito Mode?
Okay so Google have told us that it will stop your browser history from being saved and that is correct. However any website you visit – even when in Incognito Mode - can still track and store your data. On top of that, any cookies received from these websites, and files that are stored on your PC or Mac from those visits will not be removed. Plus – and here is another slightly devious thing to be aware of - if you're signed into your Google account, the searches WILL be saved in your web browsing history.
The not-so-secret secret search
It doesn't seem quite so secret now does it? You can, however, pause Google's web history tracking by adjusting the settings (although this is under a different setting) and this should get around the problem. But is this something you are going to remember every single time you want to open just one 'private' window? And again, there is another piece of not-so-good news in that the functionality of Incognito Mode is limited in Chrome OS.
This is because 'normal' browsers and incognito browsers both use the identical HTML5 local storage that the sites you visit utilize to store files on your computer. And therefore your data will be accessible to these websites whether you are in Incognito Mode or not.
Privacy? It basically comes down to whether how much Google wish to add to their users' profiles: Google needs to save data about our browsing habits so they can keep developing their search algorithms – and of course so they can target advertising to us.
If you want total anonymity for whatever reason, just changing a browser setting is not a foolproof way of ensuring that. Sure, Google can't stop 3rd party websites from tracking or storing your data (and they have not guaranteed that they can’t do the same if they wish) but lauding this as a total incognito solution may be taking it a little too far.
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) also have the ability to store data and can still track your online habits whether you’re in Incognito Mode or not. And how about when you're streaming online? If you're using Internet Explorer's Windows Media functions, it will save a copy of the streamed files in its history. Regardless of whether or not it's the browser that you're using to stream.
As you've probably ascertained by now, whilst it may have its uses Google Chrome's Incognito Mode is not quite the undercover, stealth browsing experience it initially appears to be. The fact that ISPs or websites can still save your data is proof enough. Incognito Mode only really comes in handy if you don't want someone who also uses your computer to know which websites you've been visiting.
If you really want to browse the Internet in anonymity you need a VPN as this will go one step further than Incognito Mode and hide your IP address - from everyone. It also encrypts data and traffic meaning that if you really don't want anyone to know which sites you visit, it's your only option.