Is Private Browsing Mode Really Private?

If you do a quick Google search for how to keep your online activity private, one of the first things you will see suggested is Private Browsing. Private Browsing definitely has a role to play in the battle for online privacy, but it is not a solution on its own.

In this article, we will explain what the limitations of private browsing actually are and why if you want to be truly private online, a VPN is the best solution.

What is Private Browsing & What’s it useful for?

Private browsing mode in browsers like Firefox, known as Incognito mode in Google Chrome, means that your internet browser will forget everything you have been doing online when you close the browser.

This means that information about your online activity is not shown in your browsing history, bookmarks, cookies, or anywhere else. In other words, there is no trace of your activity on your device.

Private browsing is therefore perfect for hiding online activity from other device users. If you are buying a secret gift for your husband or wife, watching porn, or visiting other sites you don’t want family members or work colleagues to know about, private browsing mode is what you need.

Is Private Browsing Mode Really Private?

Not really, no. Using private browsing mode means that no record of your online activity is retained on the device you are using to connect to the internet. However, private browsing does not encrypt your connections. This means that your online activity is still visible in a number of other ways.

For example, if you are using a Wi-Fi network and accessing unencrypted sites, anyone else on that Wi-Fi network can still see what you are doing. Your ISP or the Wi-Fi network operator can also see what is happening on the network. Private browser, therefore, offers a degree of privacy but does not offer the same level of privacy protections as a VPN.

How to really remain private while browsing – use a VPN

To make yourself truly private when browsing the internet, you need to use a VPN. When you connect to a VPN everything you do online is redirected down an encrypted tunnel which means that people not using your device can’t see what you are doing online.

A VPN also hides your IP Address which makes it almost impossible for the websites you visit to trace your online activity back to you.

Your browser will still record your online activity on your device in the usual way (although they too will not be able to tie that activity to your own internet connection). So, using private browsing with a VPN is the best sure-fire way to ensure maximum online privacy.

Best VPN for private browsing

There are a lot of VPNs on the market, but some offer better privacy protection than others. There are three VPNs we would recommend if you want the best possible online privacy around:

IPVanish Apps

1. IPVanish

Best VPN for features

Super fast speeds
Apps for all devices
No live help

IPVanish is our editor’s choice for the best VPN on the market right now and it certainly offers some of the strongest privacy protections around. They have a no user logs guarantee which they combine with some of the best encryption on the market at the moment.

They have a couple of very useful additional security features too, including a kill switch and DNS leak protection. When combined with IPVanish’s large network of servers and user-friendly apps which are available for almost every device imaginable and it is little wonder they are many people’s number one VPN pick, including ours.

ExpressVPN website Jan 17

2. ExpressVPN

Best VPN for guarantee

Long money back guarantee
Many server locations
A bit more expensive

ExpressVPN offers the strongest encryption of any mainstream VPN provider which is great for those looking for guaranteed online privacy. Their privacy policies too are as good as it gets, with a no logs guarantee for all users. Being based in the British Virgin Islands, they have no local legal requirements to store any data either.

ExpressVPN also combines this with a large server network, user-friendly apps and great customer service too. Their prices are a little on the high side compared to some rivals, but they do offer a high-level service.

NordVPN Website Jan 17

3. NordVPN

Best VPN for security

Good security options
Easy to choose the correct server
Speeds different on different servers

NordVPN is the cheapest of the three VPNs we are recommending here, but that doesn’t mean users have to make any compromise on security and privacy settings. Their encryption meets the standards set by most premium VPN providers and they are based in Panama which, like the BVI, has no domestic data retention requirements.

As a result, NordVPN keeps absolutely no user records. They also offer a good network of servers to choose from, although speeds can sometimes be a bit hit and miss. But if privacy is your priority, you could do a lot worse than NordVPN.

Private Browsing – Summary

Private browsing is the perfect privacy tool for keeping your online activities safe from those you live or work with. If you are buying a secret gift or just want to keep your online interests to yourself, private browsing is perfect. But it does not offer complete online privacy.

Because private browsing does not encrypt your connection, your online activity is still visible to your ISP, other people sharing your Wi-Fi connection, and anyone who knows how to look for it.

If you want complete and all-round online privacy, private browsing has a role to play, but it needs to be used alongside a VPN if you want total privacy protection.

David Spencer

Author: David Spencer

David is VPNCompare's News Editor. Anything going on in the privacy world and he's got his eye on it. He's also interested in unblocking sports allowing him to watch his favourite football team wherever he is in the world.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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