Whilst Incognito mode is useful, if you’re serious about being anonymous online and maintaining your privacy, then Incognito mode isn’t nearly sufficient. In this article we’ll look at some of the other things you can do to protect yourself while using the internet.Now, before we get into the real nuts and bolts, it’s worth noting that I’m not saying Incognito mode is totally useless. It does have its advantages, as conveniently outlined in Chrome when you open an Incognito window. And it’s not just Chrome that offers Incognito mode. All the main browsers have an option to open an incognito or, what some browsers call, a private session.
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On Chrome, Safari and Edge you can press CMD SHIFT and N on a Mac or CTRL SHIFT and N on Windows to open a new private window. On Firefox it’s CMD or CTRL, SHIFT and P. Alternatively, you can open a new private window from the browser menu. On Safari you’ll find the menu in the top left corner of the screen. For all other browsers the menu is located in the top right of the window.Mobile browsers also offer incognito mode. Regardless of whether you're on iPhone or Android, a long press on the tab icon should give you the option.
Benefits of Using Incognito Mode
As mentioned, when opening a new private window in Chrome, it will detail what browsing in Incognito mode does to protect your privacy and importantly what it doesn’t do. And this list applies to incognito mode on all browsers.
- The sites you visit won’t be saved to your browsing history.
- Cookies will be removed after you close the window
- Any information you enter into a form, such as a username will not be cached.
Where this works well is say on a family computer or iPad where everyone just logs in using the same account to browse the internet. So when granny jumps on the ipad to play sudoku she won’t get a surprise when she sees what you’ve been up to for the last hour!
But let’s be honest, sharing devices isn’t a common scenario. Even kids and grandparents have their own personal devices these days. And when it comes to online privacy, it’s probably not family members that you need to worry about. If you’re serious about being anonymous on the internet, then Incognito mode isn’t going to protect you.
The Limitations of Incognito Mode
As Chrome also highlights, Incognito mode doesn’t stop the actual website you’re visiting from logging your activity, such as the browser you’re using, and the IP address you use to make the connection. This exact same information may also be collected by your Internet Provider, or by the owner of the WIFI connection you’re using, whether that be your work, school or local coffee shop.
Then of course there are all the scripts that run on websites; bits of code that companies use to guarantee you see the ads they want you to see. Ads that are aligned with your browsing and shopping habits. Browsing in Incognito mode doesn’t prevent those scripts from running either.
How To Improve On Incognito Mode
So if incognito mode isn’t sufficient at protecting your anonymity online what else can you do? Well there are several options and what's more all these suggestions are completely free.
First up is to keep using Incognito mode because, as we’ve just discussed, it does offer several benefits.
My next suggestion is to use a browser whose primary aim is to protect your privacy and my recommendation for this is Brave. Out of the box, Brave will automatically prevent those nasty tracking scripts from running every time you land on a website. Infact Brave is so centred around protecting your privacy and anonymity they’ve even added TOR to their Incognito mode, which (without getting too technical about it) re-routes your internet traffic to hide your activity. Brave is completely free to download and is available for Desktop and Mobile.
Now I understand that, for some people, the idea of switching browsers after years (possibly decades) of using Chrome or Safari will be a non-starter. If this is you, at a minimum I recommend installing the DuckDuckGo Essentials browser extension. The DuckDuckGo extension will block trackers in a similar way to Brave.
DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials extension is available for free for all browsers. To install it for Chrome, click on the menu icon in the top right corner of your browser, choose More Tools and Extensions (in Firefox, it’s Add-on and Themes). Click on the Extensions Menu and open the Chrome Web Store. Search for DuckDuckGO Privacy Essentials and install it. Once installed be sure to allow it to run in Incognito mode.
To install is in Safari on Mac. Click on Safari in the menu, choose Safari Extensions and search for DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials. Sadly the same extension doesn’t exist for Safari on iphone and ipad but Apple does make an effort to block nasty trackers, ironically using a list created by DuckDuckGo.
Secure Your Website Requests
Having made a best effort to protect yourself from advertisers and websites tracking you, the next step is to encrypt your DNS traffic and switch to using a DNS provider that doesn’t log your activity.
Again,without trying to get too technical, DNS is simply the mechanism for matching a website’s name to its IP address. To make life easier for our brains, when we access a website we use the website’s name, say facebook.com. However, internet browsers can only navigate to facebook by knowing the IP address where Facebook’s website resides. DNS is simply the service that looks up and converts the website name into the ip address.
This conversion is usually performed by your Internet Provider, who may log all your requests. Essentially, compiling a complete history of all the sites you’ve visited. Whatsmore your DNS requests may be sent unencrypted in plain text, meaning anyone with a bit of nous can see which sites you're visiting.
To overcome this whopping privacy flaw, many browsers now offer the option of using an alternative DNS provider. One which doesn’t log your requests and supports encrypting your DNS requests.
To change your DNS provider for Chrome and Brave open Settings from the same menu on the right of the screen. Choose the Privacy and Security tab and click on Security. Then scroll down to Use Secure DNS. Enable the option and choose an alternative provider from the list. Whilst you’re there it's a good idea to enable Always use Secure Connections as well.
In Firefox you’ll find the DNS options by scrolling all the way to the bottom of the page, to the section marked Network Settings. Click on Settings and there you can again enable the option and choose an alternative DNS provider from the list.
For Safari users on Mac, there aren’t any DNS options within the browser . Instead, if you want to change DNS providers, you do so for the whole computer in Network settings, in System preferences. Under the advanced options for each internet connection you have a DNS tab where you can add DNS server IP addresses. I set mine to use Cloudflare (18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124). Unfortunately, there also doesn’t appear to be a setting to enforce encryption, which is something to bear in mind if you use Safari on Mac.
Using a VPN
If you have an iPhone or iPad you can change your DNS settings for individual Wifi connections by clicking on the information icon and choosing Configure DNS. But there doesn’t seem to be a similar option for cellular networks. Android users, all you need to do is open Settings, choose Network and Internet, and there at the bottom of the screen is the option to enable Private DNS.
Of course everything we’ve discussed so far has been centered around accessing the internet via a browser but doesn’t take into consideration your internet access via apps.
If you want to get serious about protecting your privacy when using both browsers and apps, you should consider using a VPN. There are some excellent free VPN options. Last year I did a video explaining why ProntonVPN is my favorite. You can use ProtonVPN for free on both desktop and mobile, without ads or any data caps, and, being Swiss, you can be sure they won’t log any of your activity.