Incognito Mode – Are You Really Anonymous?

You will be the exception if you aren’t concerned about your online privacy and security when using the internet. There are nefarious elements looking to swoop in and steal your online information at the slightest indication of any vulnerability. Beyond that, you may want to keep your online activities private just for the sake of privacy. Using the incognito mode while browsing is one of the ways to achieve this aim.

The incognito mode helps you stay safe by ensuring that your browsing history is not saved on your device after each use. However, is this enough to keep you anonymous, especially as the capabilities of cybercriminals continue to evolve? This article clearly examines the incognito mode in this light. When you get to the end, you will be able to decide whether the incognito mode is indeed sufficient or whether you need to add something more.

What is Incognito Mode?

Incognito Mode (also known as a private mode) creates a private window on your regular browser. Within this “virtual space,” you can browse undetected. This means that identifying data such as cookies will not be saved on the device when you are done with each session. Instead, the browser wipes them out, and this has some advantages for your security. For instance, anyone who wants to use the browser after you will not know what you last browsed on. 

Furthermore, third parties who keep tabs on you using such identifying information, such as cookies, cannot do so when you use the incognito mode. Apart from privacy and security, you could access other perks, such as enjoying discounts when you make purchases online. In the incognito mode, it would appear to the online vendor that you are visiting their site for the first time. Thus, you will be eligible for any discount that is available for first-time purchasers.

How Does the Incognito Mode Work?

The incognito mode is mostly straightforward to use. You simply enable it on your browser before you start surfing the net. Enabling it tells the browser not to retain any information regarding the websites you visit. Thus, details such as cookies, login information, filled forms, etc., will not be saved on the device. Hence, if anyone with physical access to your device checks your history, they will find no indication of what you browsed for.  

Furthermore, disabling cookies will mean that advertising companies and the likes that rely on cookies to build targeted ads at individuals will be unable to track your activities. This saves you the stress of having to deal with irksome ads.

Do bear in mind that there may be slight differences in the way various browsers’ incognito modes work. For instance, when you open a second browser on Chrome browsers while there is one already open in the incognito mode, a new session will not begin. This is because Chrome views each tab opened in the incognito mode as belonging to the same session. Thus, you’d have to disable the incognito mode from one of the open windows to disable the system for all.

As a recap, what does the incognito mode hide? It disguises and wipes out cookies, information used to autofill online forms, other online data, etc. However, the incognito mode cannot hide your IP address or prevent your Internet Service Provider from seeing your activities online. We will discuss more on that later on

Pros and Cons of Incognito Mode

As you’d expect, there are several pros and cons of using the incognito mode. We will analyze some of them below. 

Pros

These are some of the benefits of using incognito mode:

Keeps You Protected While You Use Public Networks

If you like to use public networks, using incognito mode is the fastest and easiest way to stay safe, besides using a VPN. While you are using a shared network, every data sent on the network is easily accessible to everyone on that network. Using the incognito mode protects you from infiltration. 

Furthermore, if you are sharing a device with someone, the incognito mode keeps your browsing private. It prevents the other person from learning what you were doing with the device. As soon as you are done, your browsing session gets wiped off, keeping your online activities private. 

Cost-effective

This is perhaps one of the biggest attractions for using the incognito mode. It is available on most browsers, so you do not have to download or install it separately. Furthermore, you do not have to pay for any subscription plan to use the incognito mode. This process assures you of security at no cost. 

Great Way to Disable Cookies and Avoid Ads

Cookies are like crumbs of data that give a fair idea of your online identity. Using cookies, third-party mining companies can build an online profile about users and then send targeted ads to specific persons. However, in incognito mode, your browser deletes or disables cookies. This minimizes the rate of adverts you get when you browse. However, it is important to note that some websites will not perform optimally if you do not enable the “accept cookies” option. 

Ease of Use

The incognito mode is safe and straightforward to use. You just have to enable it within the browser on your device to get things started. More so, during the entire time of use, there is no danger that the settings will trip off and leave you in the lurch. 

Cons

Some disadvantages of the incognito mode are:

Does Not Hide Your IP Address

One of the biggest drawbacks of using the Incognito Mode is that your IP address still remains visible. However, you get several benefits when your IP address is concealed/encrypted. Considering how vital this is, the fact that the Incognito mode doesn’t provide it is a massive letdown. 

Lack of Blanket Protection

Generally, the protection the incognito mode provides is not that strong. Hackers who put their minds to it can evolve ingenious ways to circumvent the incognito mode’s protection. For instance, if you download a virus-infected app or document, you automatically introduce the virus to your device, incognito mode or not. 

Furthermore, the incognito mode protects just the traffic from your browser. Traffic emanating from other internet-enabled apps still remains unprotected. Thus, even if the incognito mode successfully keeps your browser traffic anonymous, it cannot do the same for your other apps. Thus, in the end, you are still vulnerable.

Incognito Mode – Are You Really Anonymous?

The incognito mode does a fair job of keeping you safe online. However, it might not be wise to rely on it for total anonymity. This is especially if you engage in high-risk activities.

Firstly, you can be tracked even when you use the incognito mode. There are companies dedicated to creating digital fingerprints of internet users by tracking their online activities. Details such as the browser used, location, language, timezone, etc., all inform these companies of the activities a user engages in. Even when you use the incognito mode, these scripts run in the background and compromise your details anyway. Beyond these third parties who may just need your details for advertising, your information could fall into the wrong hands.

More so, the incognito mode does not hide your IP address. Thus, third parties will be able to see your location, and in some cases, the activities you are carrying out online. Some of the entities who have access to your activities even when you use the incognito mode include:

1. Internet Service Providers (ISPs)

Your ISP has the first access to your network when you go online. Thus, your data will have to be routed through your ISP’s servers even in incognito mode. Hence, if you are looking to hide anything from your ISP, using the incognito mode alone will not work.

2. Your Search Engine

The incognito mode wipes the history of your internet activities off your device when you finish each session. While this means that outsiders cannot find out what you browsed when you are done with each session, the search engine may still retain access. Of course, this is not true for all search engines, as some of them do not spy on you. However, for many others, the data history of what you use the search engine for will still be available to the search engine even after use 

3. Visited Websites 

Another party you cannot hide from is the website you visit. Even in the incognito mode, as long as you sign in to any account or use any website, it identifies you.

4. Network Administrators

If you use a shared network, you are vulnerable. This is because network administrators will see what you do on the service even if you use the incognito mode.

Is There an Alternative to the Incognito Mode?

All hope is not lost if you use the incognito mode. There’s still a way to stay safe and anonymous while using the internet. That is by using a tool known as a VPN.

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is software primarily designed to enhance and strengthen internet security. When you use a VPN, all the traffic emanating from your device gets encrypted.  This is because the VPN service first routes your traffic through its servers before heading to the final destination you need to access. This process also creates a secure tunnel through which your internet data passes. In effect, third parties – hackers, your ISP, the government- will be unable to access your private data. Even if they can, the fact that your data is encrypted means that they will not decipher what exactly you did online.

In addition, when you connect to a VPN’s server, your IP address gets changed to one reflecting the location the server is stationed in. For instance, if you connect to a VPN’s server in Germany, you automatically acquire a German IP address. This is regardless of where you are located. This way, you will be able to access geo-restricted content meant solely for this secondary location.

Security Benefits of a VPN

Since our subject is anonymity and security, we shall consider some of the ways a VPN improves them. Finally, the analysis will juxtapose these benefits with those obtained under the incognito mode, showing why a VPN is best.

Broader Security Coverage

A VPN encrypts ALL the traffic originating from your device (except those you choose to exclude using the split tunnel feature.) This gives you broader protection, as against what you find in the incognito mode. Furthermore, even if you intend to protect just the traffic originating from your browser, you can download a VPN extension for that browser. The benefit of this option is that your browser traffic will be encrypted. Thus, third parties will be unaware of your activities online. You can then manually wipe off your online history after each session or even combine the incognito mode with the VPN.

Blocking Out Third Parties

As highlighted above, certain categories of entities still have access to your details even when you enable the incognito mode. However, when you use a VPN, no one else will have access to your online data apart from the VPN provider. Thus, your ISP, the website visited, your network administrator, etc., will be blocked from accessing your online information.

Availability of Malware and Adware Protection

Most VPN providers also have malware and adware protection. Thus, the provider blocks out ads that might interfere with your browsing experience. In the same vein, it can detect and disable malware, further enhancing your security.

Stronger Privacy Rules

Some websites can still employ some tricks such as the browser fingerprinting system to identify you in the incognito mode. However, that is blocked when you use a VPN. Furthermore, even the VPN provider relinquishes your data after every session. Most providers maintain a strict no-log policy that mandates them to delete users’ data after every use.

Conclusion

No doubt, the incognito mode offers a measure of protection and anonymity when you use the internet. However, its function is most efficient if you are looking to prevent physical detection of your browsing history.  If you are looking for true online anonymity, you will be best served if you use a VPN. A VPN gives you all of the benefits of the incognito mode and much more.