A very useful tool that any web browser offers is Private browsing. Even though each browser calls it by a different name (InPrivate, Private Browsing, Incognito or Private Tab), this feature always does the same thing: allows users to browse the web without saving data like cache, history or cookies. However, this is done locally, meaning that only people using your computer won't be able to find out what websites you have visited. The websites you visited, your ISP (Internet Service Provider) and, in fact, every server your requests pass through, know what you visited. In this article we will show how to enable Private browsing in all the major web browsers and how to check if you are browsing privately or not.
Internet Explorer for the Desktop - InPrivate Browsing
Microsoft uses the term InPrivate for private browsing. In the desktop version of Internet Explorer 11, to enable InPrivate browsing you have to open the Tools menu by clicking the little gear icon on the top-right.
Then, hover over Safety to open the corresponding submenu.
Now click InPrivate Browsing.
Internet Explorer 11 opens a new browser window, where the following notification is displayed: "InPrivate is turned on. InPrivate Browsing helps prevent Internet Explorer from storing data about your browsing session."
The browser won't store cookies, temporary Internet files, history and other data. By default, it also disables extra toolbars and extensions you normally have installed in Internet Explorer 11.
For keyboard users, you should know that the shortcut for InPrivate browsing is Ctrl+Shift+P.
You can check if you are using InPrivate browsing, by looking in the left side of the address bar. If you see the logo shown below, InPrivate browsing is turned on.
To leave InPrivate browsing you have to close the window.
The Internet Explorer App - InPrivate Browsing
The Internet Explorer app for Windows 8.1 is a touch oriented version of this browser. Enabling InPrivate browsing is simpler than in the desktop version.
To enable InPrivate browsing, tap the "Tab tools" button, represented by the three dots, found on the right side of the list with opened tabs.
Then, tap the "New InPrivate tab" link in the menu that is shown.
A new InPrivate tab is opened, which informs you that "InPrivate Browsing helps prevent Internet Explorer from storing data about your browsing session. This includes cookies, temporary Internet files, history, and other data.".
For keyboard users, you should know that the shortcut for InPrivate Browsing is Ctrl+Shift+P.
To check if you are using an InPrivate tab, look at the left side of the address bar.
You'll also notice that InPrivate tabs have the corresponding blue tag in the left side.
To leave InPrivate browsing, all you have to do is to close all the InPrivate tabs you have opened.
Mozilla Firefox - Private Browsing
To enable Private Browsing in Mozilla Firefox, click the "Open menu" button on the top right side of the browser window.
Then, click "New private window".
A new private window is opened, with a notification telling you that when browsing in private mode, Firefox won't keep any browser history, search history, download history, web form history, cookies, or temporary internet files. However, files you download and bookmarks you make will be kept.
One important difference between Firefox and other browsers is that it explicitly warns you that your ISP (Internet Service Provider) or employer can still track the pages you visit.
For keyboard users, you should know that the shortcut for Private Browsing is Ctrl+Shift+N.
To check if the current Firefox window is with Private Browsing enabled, look for the purple mask icon in the top right corner of the browser window. It it is there, you are using this feature.
You should note that all the information in this section is also applicable to the 64-bit version of Firefox - Mozilla Waterfox.
Google Chrome - Incognito
Google calls private browsing Incognito. To open a new Incognito window, you have to click the "Customize and control Google Chrome" button in the top right corner of the browser window.
Then, click the "New incognito window" link.
A new window is opened, telling you that pages you view in incognito tabs won't stick around in your browser's history, cookie store, or search history after you've closed all of your incognito tabs. Any files you download or bookmarks you create will be kept.
Lastly, you should know that Incognito disables extensions. You can manually enable them to work in this mode too.
For keyboard users, you should know that the shortcut for browsing Incognito is Ctrl+Shift+N.
In Chrome you can recognize an Incognito window by its logo: an image of a person in disguise (raincoat, hat and dark glasses). This logo is shown in the top left corner of the browser window.
You should note that all the information in this section is also applicable to the beta 64-bit version of Google Chrome, Google Chrome Canary.
Opera - Private Browsing
To open a private window in Opera, you have to click the Opera button found on the top left side of the browser window. Then, click "New private window".
A notification is displayed in the Private Window saying that: "Entering private browsing. As soon as you close this tab, all the information connected with it will be erased."
You can disable this notification by checking the corresponding checkbox.
Clicking the Learn more link will open a help page from Opera, where you can learn that "Private browsing ensures that your internet history and activity is removed as soon as you close the window".
You will also learn that when the private window is closed browsing history, items in cache, cookies and logins are deleted. Also, a closed window cannot be recovered from the "Recently closed" list in the main menu.
For keyboard users, you should know that the shortcut to open a Private Window is Ctrl+Shift+N.
To check if you are browsing in a Private Window watch for the sunglasses logo on the left side of the tab.
Private browsing is especially useful when you are on a public computer and you don't want your browsing history to be accessible by the next person using that computer. However, you may also have reasons to use it on your own personal or work computers.
Whatever the reason for using it, you should remember that it can only stop the people using the same computer as you from seeing anything about your browsing history, but you can't stop anyone else. Privacy is very relative on the Internet and the Internet Service Provider, the network admin and other parties can learn what you were browsing when using private browsing.
Before you close this article, do share with us: Have you used these private browsing modes yourself? Which browser you prefer for this activity and why?