More and more people are beginning to understand the importance of their online privacy. Subsequently, many have started looking into various security solutions.
DuckDuckGo, the renowned secure search engine, conducted a study in 2017 to raise awareness of online trust. It concluded that 46% Americans have used private browsing. However, 76% out of these people had common misconceptions about how it works.
Therefore, we have decided to dig a little into private browsing mode and show you how it works, what are its advantages and common misconceptions, and how you can improve your online privacy by turning to a VPN service.
The list of topics below should give you a good idea of what to expect on this page (click to jump).
What is private browsing mode?
- How it works
- How to enable private browsing?
- The advantages of private browsing
- Misconceptions about private browsing mode
- What is a VPN?
- Using private browsing mode and VPN together
- How to use a VPN with private browsing
- Our VPN recommendation
- In conclusion
What is private browsing mode?
Some web browsers support private browsing mode. It is a privacy feature that facilitates a certain level of anonymity when you are surfing the Internet.
Depending on which browser you are using, you can find several name variations, such as incognito, private window, private mode, or in-private browsing.
How it works
In normal browsing mode, the web browser collects and stores various data about your Internet activities, such as cookies on the sites you visit, as well as the information you enter in forms.
It is great for streamlining your online experience. But it also affects your privacy in a negative way, especially if you use a personal account to sync data across all supported devices.
What private browsing mode does is to create a temporary browsing session. And it is isolated from the main browsing mode. This part is crucial because it does not associate you with your personal account.
For online services, it looks like the first time you launch your web browser after reinstalling your operating system. There are no records of past browsing history or cookies, making it a fresh start.
How to enable private browsing?
Most computer users start a normal browsing session before switching to private browsing mode using keyboard shortcut or a couple of mouse actions. But it is also possible to begin a private browsing session without opening a standard window.
Here are the hotkeys for activating this privacy feature in popular web browsers:
- Google Chrome (Incognito): Ctrl + Shift + N
- Mozilla Firefox (Private Window): Ctrl + Shift + P
- Opera (Private Mode): Ctrl + Shift + N
- Internet Explorer (InPrivate Browsing): Ctrl + Shift + P
- Microsoft Edge (InPrivate Browsing): Ctrl + Shift + P
- Safari (Private Window): Command+Shift+N
The advantages of private browsing
There are numerous benefits of using private browsing mode to keep our online activities confidential. Here are just some of them.
Leave no traces behind on public PCs
It is not always possible to use your own smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop to go online. Sometimes, it is necessary to use the computer of a friend you are visiting or of a hotel you are staying at.
Security is paramount when you need to go online to log into your personal or work accounts, check your email, verify your bank statements, or shop online. And there is always the risk of forgetting to sign out of your accounts.
Therefore, it is better to start a private browsing session because it cannot remember your login data or credit card info. But we also suggest using a virtual keyboard, just in case there are keyloggers installed.
Keep your confidential affairs in order
It is difficult to find privacy without being judged when you live with your family. And not all people are willing to password-protect their computers because they would not risk hurting the feelings of their loved ones.
But sometimes it is absolutely necessary to hide your tracks and keep your private affairs to yourself while surfing the Internet. For example, you might want to research a possible health issue that you do not wish to concern your family about.
Perhaps you want to check the news on topics about violent crimes without distressing your kids. Or maybe you just feel embarrassed about the content sensitive sites you visit. Whatever it is, private mode takes care of it.
Secretly shop online for gifts
If your spouse or best friend regularly use your computer or smartphone, then it can become impossible to buy them a gift online without spoiling the surprise. All browser searches are recorded to history, after all.
But you can easily fix this issue by switching to private browsing mode. The browser forgets everything you do online as soon as you close all its incognito windows, so there will no traces left behind that would spoil the surprise.
Safely find a new job at the office
Many employees that work on the computer do not have the level of privacy they deserve. And, if you share your PC with a colleague, then privacy disappears completely.
Things could take a turn for the worse if you do not feel satisfied with your job anymore and wish to look for a new job during office hours. You never know who will be checking your browsing history after you go home.
As such, it is better to avoid upsetting your boss and accidentally causing your early exit by getting caught. Switching to private mode prevents the browser from saving your searches. But keep in mind that it cannot hide your searches from your corporate routers.
Conduct unbiased or SEO research for work
If your work involves spending many hours on the Internet researching a particular topic, then it is a good idea to turn on private browsing mode to take advantage of unbiased research.
The rule especially applies when you frequently have to research similar topics. And the same thing goes for SEO analysis, too. Keyword researching is heavily influenced by your past searches.
Instead of seeing Google search results with the same pages, based on your past searches, you can refresh the browser on each click. It is all thanks to the private mode.
Simultaneously access two email accounts
This has nothing to do with privacy, but the incognito mode comes in handy here. Currently, Gmail allows you to associate multiple accounts so that you can quickly switch through them.
But most email services do not benefit from this feature. Therefore, you would normally have to sign out before signing in under a different account. It becomes troublesome when you have to do this on a regular basis.
If you turn on private browsing mode, you can remain signed into two accounts and effortlessly toggle them just like you would cycle through open windows (Alt + Tab). Thanks to the isolated temporary session, your browser identifies two distinct sessions instead of one: normal + private mode.
Misconceptions about private browsing mode
Now that we have listed all the wonderful things you can do with private browsing mode, it is time to look into its downsides, too. In fact, these are not actually downsides, but common misconceptions that some people believe.
In the DuckDuckGo study we mentioned at the beginning of this article, it was shown than 76% out of Americans who used private browsing mode has some common misconceptions about it.
To clarify, the incognito feature of a web browser cannot hide your IP address and spoof your location, nor protect you from ad and government tracking. Browser history and saved cookies are not the only things involved in your online identity.
However, those misconceptions are all goals that you can accomplish with a VPN service, which we are discussing next to see how it can work with private browsing mode.
What is a VPN?
A virtual private network service provides a more secure connection to the Internet than private browsing. Incognito mode focuses on maintaining your privacy offline – make sure that no one else with access to your PC can see what you do when you are surfing the Internet.
It has some benefits online, too, but they are minimal. Meanwhile, a VPN tool can do everything that private mode cannot: protect your privacy and security across the entire Internet. It is all thanks to encryption and the way a VPN works.
How it works
A VPN creates a secure tunnel inside the public Internet, which connects your computer to the VPN provider’s remote server. In turn, the server relays your messages to the outside world in a safe and secure manner.
All data packets that make up the message are individually encapsulated into additional packets that are encrypted to perform VPN tunneling.
To simplify, your messages, site requests, photos, videos, documents, and all other contents remain private. Not even your ISP can see what you are doing on the web, which we cannot say about private browsing mode.
The advantages of VPN
There are endless perks to using a virtual private network service to secure all your Internet connections. These are just some of them:
- Safeguard your Internet connection on public Wi-Fi
- Secure your wireless network at home or at work
- Protect your secret conversations and VoIP calls, especially while traveling
- Bypass government firewalls, lift network restrictions, and access blocked websites
- Get rid of personalized ads and online trackers
- Prevent Google from finding out everything about you
- Hide your IP address and spoof your location
- Conceal your browsing activity from your ISP
- Get exclusive access to streaming services, like US Netflix
- Maintain your anonymity when downloading torrents
- Get better deals for hotel booking and flights by avoiding price discrimination
- Protect your child’s safety online
- Secure your email by encrypting your messages
- Stop hackers from stealing your digital identity
Using a private browsing mode and VPN together
A virtual private network service might be resourceful, but it cannot do some of the things that private browsing mode can accomplish. For instance, a VPN does not stop your web browser from remembering cookies or the sites you visit.
Switching to private browsing mode is also recommended to make your browser fingerprint less unique. That is because incognito sessions do not load browser extensions, nor inherit the User Agent string or font lists of the standard browsing mode.
Using a VPN service is highly advisable, even if you are mostly interested in hiding your online traces from others. If your web browser has bugs, these could cause private browsing mode to stop working correctly, accidentally compromising your Internet activities in the process.
Besides, there are no compatibility issues between incognito mode and VPN services, so you can use both solutions at the same time. The private mode handles your computer local privacy while the VPN takes care of your online anonymity and security.
How to use a VPN with private browsing
There are straightforward steps involved for using a VPN service and private browsing at the same time. Here is what you need to do.
- Get a trustworthy VPN service (Check our Best VPN Service recommendation)
- Download and set up the VPN client
- Launch the application and connect to a VPN server
- Fire up your web browser and switch to private mode
- Enjoy anonymous and secure browsing
Our VPN recommendation
The trickiest part from the previous list is the first step: finding a trustworthy VPN service. It is particularly challenging when there are many scams and myths going around, and you have to double-check some aspects by looking in the VPN small print.
People may have different reference systems to define what exactly means to trust a piece of software. When it comes to virtual private network services, though, it all comes down to how effective the tool is in protecting your online privacy and security.
For example, we advise against using free VPN services, no matter how tempting they sound, since there are many hidden dangers to using free VPN. Nevertheless, the market of virtual private network software is overflowing.
Finding the right VPN tool for the job can become an ordeal. You might even give up in the process, although this would be a huge mistake. If you are open to advice, though, you can trust our recommendations.
We have tested, reviewed and ranked more than 50 virtual private network solutions until now. And, when we compared the best VPN services of this year, we found out that ExpressVPN is the best in the business.
When we reviewed ExpressVPN, we discovered a dependable virtual private network service capable of protecting the online privacy and security of its customers. The company resides in the British Virgin Islands, where there are no data retention laws.
It is equipped with powerful encryption facilitated by OpenVPN. Through this protocol, China residents can also connect to obfuscated servers in Hong Kong to get past VPN blocks and hide the fact that they are using VPN.
As far as additional security features are concerned, ExpressVPN has an emergency kill switch, split tunneling mode, private DNS, together with protection against IPv6 and DNS leaks. No leaks were discovered in our evaluation.
The VPN service does not disappoint when it comes to connection speed either. It yielded excellent results in our tests to ensure a smooth browsing experience.
ExpressVPN supports up to 5 simultaneous connections and can be installed on a number of devices, including Windows, Linux, Android, iOS, macOS, and routers. It has more than 3,000 servers from 160 locations and 94 countries.
And, if you ever require customer service, you can use the 24/7 live chat support. A subscription plan to this premium VPN solution is pricier than others, but it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.
All these features make ExpressVPN a trustworthy VPN service that can be used alongside private browsing mode to secure your data and maintain your anonymity. If you are interested in ExpressVPN, you can get a subscription plan here.
Taking everything into account, private browsing mode is a great privacy feature that all users should enable as soon as they go online. But it can only help you hide your traces from other people with access to your PC.
If you want to protect your identity online, too, then you must equip yourself with a reliable VPN service that can mask your IP address and location. The great news is that you do not have to choose between these two: you can use private browsing and VPN at the same time to make yourself more anonymous on the Internet.