What is incognito mode? Your guide to private browsing

If you’ve ever stumbled across “incognito mode” and wondered what it is, this guide is for you. Discover who is tracking you, why they do it, and whether private browsing can stop it.

How to go incognito and browse in private

Who is tracking me and does incognito mode stop them?

Internet service providers can track everything you do online, and most websites track their visitors, too. Web­sites often track the actions visitors take outside their sites as well. They then build a profile based on the data. Networks of websites can pool their information together to build an accurate profile of who you are, what you do, and what you like. Government officials and criminals can also track your actions. But what is incognito mode able to stop? Sadly, the answer is “Not much”.

The data collected about your online activity is used for analytics and to improve services. But it’s also valuable to advertisers. When they know what you like, they can target you with ads that are more likely to grab your attention. This doesn’t only mean products or services, but also news articles, for example. In some countries the data is also used for surveillance. The main browser providers also make money from advertising. Which means incognito mode doesn’t prevent a lot of the things you might expect.

What is incognito mode for if it can’t stop tracking?

Incognito mode, Private Browsing, or any other similar browser-based safe mode only covers your tracks on the device you use to surf the web. No traces are left on the device, — with details such as browsing history, cookies, and other user data being ignored — but your actions are visible online. Your information is still visible to the websites you visit and whoever provides your internet connection. And if you want to be fully incognito and browse privately, incognito mode is not enough. If you truly want to browse privately, you’ll need a VPN.

Tips from Mikko Hyppönen 

When it comes to browsing privately and taking the most appropriate steps, F-Secure's Mikko Hyppönen provides the following tips:

  1. Use a password manager like ID Protection. This will solve tons of other problems for you, as you will automatically have a unique strong password on every site. I prefer password managers that do not store your passwords in the cloud, but keep them locally encrypted on your own devices and just use an encrypted sync to keep them updated on them.

  2. Use a tool like F-Secure VPN to secure yourself while using WiFi networks. Without a VPN, it’s trivial for anyone else using the same WiFi to see big parts of your traffic. Use a VPN on your laptop, on your phone and your tablet. I like VPNs that enhance your privacy by also removing tracking cookies and other potential breaches of privacy. The added benefit of this is that browsing becomes much faster — it’s often faster with a VPN than without!

  3. Lastly, make a backup. Then make a backup of your backup. Backup your laptop, backup your phone, backup your tablet. And back them up so that you can recover your data even if your house burns down. Because sometimes your house really does burn down, and sometimes you are hit by encrypting ransom trojans. Our digital moments are on our devices, and they deserve to be backed up.

F-Secure VPN

Do you want to browse privately?

The simplest and best way to stay private online is to use a VPN like F‑Secure’s VPN. If you want to cover your tracks online and truly go incognito, a VPN is your best choice. In short, a VPN hides your real address from the web­sites that you visit and blocks your internet service provider from seeing your internet traffic. VPN is really easy to use. You can try it for free, with no credit card required.

Read more and try for free