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Y0ur P@ssw0rd S*cks: Is there any real protection or benefit to using Incognito Mode?

Unfortunately, Incognito Mode isn’t the useful security tool that it may appear to be.


Mikael Thalen


Y0ur P@ssw0rd S*cks is a bi-weekly column that answers the most pressing internet security questions web_crawlr readers have to make sure they can navigate the ‘net safely. If you want to get this column a day before we publish it, subscribe to web_crawlr, where you’ll get the daily scoop of internet culture delivered straight to your inbox.

Today, web_crawlr reader Cat R. asks: “Is there any real protection or benefit to using incognito mode while browsing?”

You’ve likely heard the term “Incognito Mode” countless times. You’ve probably seen the feature listed in your web browser. But what exactly is Incognito Mode and what does it even do?

Assuming you knew nothing about the feature at all, you’d likely assume from the name alone that such a tool would conceal you online. Even the logo for Google’s Incognito Mode, a disguise consisting of a hat and glasses, evokes a feeling of anonymity.

Unfortunately, Incognito Mode isn’t the useful security tool that it may appear to be.

Essentially, all Incognito Mode does is keep your browser from recording your web history. This is useful if you share your computer with others and don’t want your web searches available to others.

Yet your internet service provider can still see all the websites you visit. And the websites you visit can see your IP address. And advertisers can still easily track you online.

In fact, a lawsuit against Google just last year over Incognito Mode uncovered some interesting things. The lawsuit accused the company of misleading users by making it seem as if Incognito Mode would stop them from being tracked online despite Google continuing to collect their information.

As part of the lawsuit’s discovery process, it was found that Google engineers working on the Chrome Browser openly criticized the feature.

“We need to stop calling it Incognito and stop using a Spy Guy icon,” one employee wrote.

In other words, Incognito Mode won’t hide your internet activity from anyone unless they’re living with you and are trying to check your browsing history.

Internet security is a complex topic. Tools such as VPNs, which this column has previously touched upon, can help in some situations. Other tools such as the Tor Browser, which we will undoubtedly discuss at some point, is better in other scenarios.

But in terms of privacy, Incognito Mode is not all that useful.

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