How Do You Go Incognito Online?

When and why it’s a good idea to browse the internet privately.

When you surf the internet, web browsers like Google Chrome or Internet Explorer save cookies—small files with information about your responses—that allow sites to recognize you, keep track of your preferences, and make suggestions (or advertise) accordingly. While this is usually convenient, sometimes you’d rather go incognito.

Every major web browser has a feature that lets you surf the web privately. In Google Chrome, it’s called Incognito. Others call it “private browsing.” All are easy to use. Simply go to your browser’s File menu, open an Incognito (or Private) window, and search as usual. The sites you visit won’t appear in your browsing history, nor will advertisements targeting your searches pop up on your screen.

Why is private browsing helpful? Well, maybe you’re shopping for gifts on the family computer and don’t want your loved ones to see what sites you’ve been visiting. Using Incognito mode will keep those ads for smart grills from spoiling the surprise when your spouse goes online.

Or maybe you had a stressful day, and reading about the latest episode of The Bachelor was just the thing to help you relax. With the help of cookies, the sites you visited can’t wait to help you again—and again. If you’d rather avoid having your newsfeed peppered with celebrity gossip, consider private browsing. Some searches just don’t need revisiting.

There are also times when you have to use someone else’s device or a public computer—say, at a library or a hotel. Whether you’re checking in for a flight or sending a quick email, go Incognito to keep your business to yourself.

And if you want to see how your new blog or personal profile appears in other people’s searches, Incognito mode can help with that, too. Just open an Incognito window and search to see results that aren’t affected by your previous search activity.

…incognito does not mean anonymous.

It’s also important to understand that a record of your online activity isn’t confined to one device: it often can be found on the servers of the sites you visit or the network you’re using.

Here’s the catch: when it comes to web browsing, incognito does not mean anonymous. After closing a private window, neither cookies nor the sites visited will be visible on that device. However, any bookmarks or downloads will remain, so be careful what you save and where you go. Viruses picked up from insecure websites can stick around long after you’ve forgotten you visited them.

Keep that in mind if you’re connected to a less secure network like public wireless internet (Wi-Fi), or if you’re searching job postings while you’re at work. And remember, however you’re browsing, it’s always risky to send private information online.

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