Google's incognito mode

Just how good is the incognito mode for privacy? Is it better than VPNs?

Well, according to some people, it is. We have had people tell us they don’t need a VPN because they always browse in incognito mode (also called private mode) whenever they want some online privacy.

It feels like some people give incognito mode more credit than it deserves. We mean, the way they see things isn’t too far off from this image:

Meme depicting misconceptions about incognito mode

It is funny stuff, but it’s a bit worrying that there are people who believe that incognito mode can actually secure and anonymize their Internet traffic.

That’s why we decided to write this article: to set the record straight once and for all. We will tell you exactly how incognito mode does and does not help your Internet privacy. Also, we will show you how and, most importantly, why a VPN is better for privacy.

What Incognito Mode Really Does for Your Privacy

Alright, so here’s a list of things incognito mode will do when you use it:

  • Delete all cookies.
  • Clear your browsing history when you close the tab.
  • Stop your browser from saving what you type in search engines and login fields.

So, it’s clear that this browser feature is a great way to hide your browsing habits locally from people you live with, or people with whom you share a device. For example, you can go incognito while shopping for a gift for your significant other, or when you want to browse adult content while your parents are asleep.

Besides that, the incognito mode has other uses too:

  • It might help you avoid paywalls on some websites. Emphasis on might, though.
  • It lets you log into multiple accounts simultaneously.

What Incognito Mode Won’t Do to Protect Your Internet Privacy

First of all, it won’t offer you any traffic encryption. That means your online activities aren’t as hidden as you’d like them to be. People using your device might not know what you looked up, but your ISP (we’ll get to that in a bit), government surveillance agencies, and network admins at school or work will have no trouble keeping tabs on your browsing.

Besides that, the incognito mode doesn’t hide your real IP address. So, websites and other Internet users can still see it.

You think this doesn’t sound too bad, right? Well, get this – your IP address can and will reveal a lot of personal stuff about you:

  • The country and city where you live.
  • Who your ISP is.
  • What ZIP code you have.

Not to mention that your IP address makes it simple for advertisers to track your digital footprint and spam you with annoying ads.

Also, here’s something for those of you who only want to browse porn. Incognito mode might be more convenient than a VPN, but it doesn’t keep your activities 100% private. As opposed to what you might believe, it doesn’t even stop porn websites from sharing your browsing data with tech giants like Oracle, Google, and even Facebook.

And if you don’t believe that, no problem. Google, Firefox, Opera, and pretty much any browser with an incognito/private mode will clearly say that it won’t hide your online browsing from:

  • Any websites you visit;
  • Your ISP;
  • Your employer or school network admins.
Google's incognito mode disclaimers
Chrome Incognito Mode

Can Your ISP See Your Browsing When You Use Incognito Mode?

Yes, they can surely do that. In fact, for them, it’s like you’re simply browsing the Web (as you usually do – without going incognito). They won’t really see any difference.

So, they’ll still be able to see stuff like:

  • The websites you access.
  • The web pages you browse (if you use HTTP websites).
  • What messages you send on unencrypted platforms.
  • What files you download on unencrypted websites.
  • How much time you spend on a specific website or web page.

Pretty much your entire browsing history, really.

Plus, get this – even if you browse HTTPS websites while incognito, your ISP can find a way to see what specific web pages you visit. They already know the website domain, so they can use that info alongside the timing and size of your data packets alongside DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) to get a pretty clear image of what you’re doing online.

It Goes Beyond Your ISP

If you use an unencrypted public WiFi, incognito mode won’t help you protect your privacy. Cybercriminals can still exploit the network’s lack of security to snoop on your online browsing.

The same goes for fake hotspots. If you accidentally connect to a fake WiFi network ran by a hacker (hey, it happens), they’ll have no problem monitoring your online communications even if you use incognito mode.

Really, all a hacker needs in either situation is a packet sniffer like Wireshark, and they’re good to go.

Incognito Mode vs. VPN – Why the Latter Offers Better Privacy

Unlike incognito mode, which is just a browser feature, a VPN is an online service that hides your IP address and encrypts your traffic.

So, it basically offers you precisely what you need to enjoy top-notch privacy on the Internet. If you’re not sure how it all works, here’s a quick brief:

  • When you connect to the VPN server, it automatically replaces your real IP address with its own address. From then on, any website you connect to will only see the VPN server’s address.
  • By encrypting your traffic, the VPN makes sure nobody can monitor it – not even your ISP, or hackers on fake WiFi networks. At most, they’ll just think they’re seeing average HTTPS traffic. And yep, that means your ISP won’t detect what websites you browse. At most, they’ll only be able to tell you’re using a VPN (unless you use one with obfuscation, that is).

And here’s another cool thing – because the VPN encrypts your traffic, your ISP can’t throttle it anymore if you use up too much data.

Does That Mean You Should Never Use Incognito Mode?

Not at all. Incognito mode has its uses. Just don’t rely on it to hide your Internet traffic.

But you should use an incognito mode & VPN combo when you want an extra level of privacy. If you do that, you hide your online traffic and secure your privacy on the device too.

Plus, if you use them together, you have a better chance of getting around online price discrimination. I’m not saying you will 100% find cheaper airplane tickets by using incognito mode with a VPN, but your odds will be slightly better since you won’t have so many cookies on your device.

Just make sure you run the VPN connection before you go incognito. There’s less tracking that way.

How Anonymous Will You Be, Though?

Let’s get one thing clear first – you’re never 100% anonymous on the Web. But you can do something to increase your odds of keeping your privacy intact.

Using an incognito mode + VPN combo is one of those things. But the privacy you get will only be as good as the VPN service you use. Ideally, you should pick a tool that accepts cryptocurrency payments, keeps zero logs, and has its HQ in a privacy-friendly country.

Oh, and the VPN should also maintain its own DNS service. That way, you don’t need to worry about DNS queries potentially leaking your browsing data.

Need help finding a reliable VPN service? No problem – just use this guide.

Also, use antivirus software like Malwarebytes or Bitdefender. Hey, neither VPNs or incognito mode can keep you safe from malware.

The TL;DR Version

Incognito mode isn’t a way to hide your online traffic from your ISP or the government. It’s just a nice feature that keeps your Web browsing private from anyone else who might have access to your device.

VPNs are better since they can encrypt your traffic, and they can also hide your IP address. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use them together! With an incognito mode + VPN combo, you get even better online privacy. Just make sure you use a really solid VPN service.

What do you think? Do you use the two together, or think that a VPN is enough? And if you somehow believe incognito mode is enough, please tell us why in the comments. We are very interested in hearing more about that.