How Private is your Browser Incognito Window

Incognito mode guide

Privacy is at the forefront of a lot of internet users minds these days.

With everyone from Chinese Communist spies, profiteering Russian hackers posing a threat to husbands/wives trying to sneak a peek at your gift buying history, it is no wonder that many of us are looking at ways to stay private on the internet.

One tool which a lot of people have turned to is incognito browsing on their regular web browser.

Incognito windows come under a variety of different names. Safari has private browsing; Firefox offers private browser windows, and Microsoft Edge lets you browse InPrivate.

The biggest and most popular browser on the planet right now, Google Chrome, uses the term incognito windows, so that is the term we are sticking with in this guide.

But this is not a guide limited to Google Chrome users alone but everyone who switches their browser to the equivalent of an incognito window and then hopes it will help to keep their online activity private.

The question is, exactly how private are incognito windows?

In this guide, we are going to take a deep dive into this topic and examine exactly what type of privacy protections an incognito window can give you and what it can’t.

We are also going to make a number of recommendations so that anyone who genuinely wants to be able to use their internet privately, can do so without fear of their data being hacked and intercepted by either overseas spies or potential privacy threats from much closer to home.

Part One: All About Incognito Mode

Incognito mode

What is Incognito Mode

Incognito mode is a function offered by most internet browsers to allow users to browse the internet in private.

When you use a regular internet browser, it will log a huge amount of information about what you are doing online. This is stored in your browser history and acts as a record of everything you do online.

Your browser can also keep a record of how you fill in online forms and logins. It can store your passwords and login details and then enter them automatically when you visit the site again.

This can be very convenient but is not always very privacy-friendly, especially if other people sometimes use the same device.

The key definition you need to consider is exactly who incognito browsing keeps your internet habits private from. The vague term ‘private browsing’ used by most browsers is never clearly defined so let’s have a go here.

Incognito browsing stops your device from keeping a record of the websites you visit and the internet services you use. It will automatically delete your browsing history to remove details of all sites you have visited during that session from your browser.

It will also ensure that none of the data you have entered into any forms or logins is stored on your device or in your browser once you close the browser window. And it will also delete any cookies that are left on your system by the websites you visit.

Jargon Explained

Cookies are small text files that are left on your computer system when you visit a website. They are used for things like remembering your preferences, staying logged in automatically, and keeping track of things like online shopping carts.

However, they are also used by websites to track what you do online, record and transmit information about your web habits, and help them to monetise this information.

This is a fairly flagrant invasion of your online privacy, so deleting them from your system is no bad thing.

All of this is very helpful and will stop other users on your device from seeing what you are doing online. However, they are not a privacy panacea and it is important to remember what incognito browsing doesn’t do as well as what it does.

Privacy issues with incognito windows

Incognito mode is ideal for stopping other users of your device from seeing what you are getting up to online.

It stops your web browser from logging information about your internet use and also helps to keep your device clear of cookies.

But it doesn’t stop any other types of online snooping and there is no shortage of those.

Things that incognito windows will not keep your data private from include:

Google (and other providers)

If you are logged into your Google account, Google will still be keeping a record of every website you visit and online service you use.

This happens regardless of whether you are using incognito mode in their Chrome browser or not. Google has a huge file of information about all its users and uses this data to target adverts at you as well as to sell to third parties.

If you wish to, you can permanently delete all of the records Google has about you.

Learn More

To find out more, take a look at our guide on How to Delete Your Google History Permanently.

Your ISP

Your internet service provider (ISP) is the company that provides you with access to the internet (such as BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk, and so on).

Under UK law (specifically the Investigatory Powers Act 2016), ISPs are required to log the online data of every user and retain this information for a minimum of twelve months.

A wide range of government bodies can access this data at any time and for the flimsiest of reasons. Using incognito windows does not stop your ISPs from logging all of this private information about what you are doing online.

Your IP Address

Incognito windows do nothing to hide your IP Address.

This is the bit of code that is transmitted with your internet data and is unique to you at the time of connection, similar to your phone number.

IP Addresses are used to link people to their online activity and can be used by law enforcement bodies to track online criminals but also by government spies who want to monitor what anyone is doing online.

They also help websites like Facebook to easily monitor everything their users are doing online.

Government spies

If the government wants to know what you are doing online, it can track you quite easily regardless of whether you are using an incognito window or not.

As well as using your IP address, they can demand your ISP hand over all of their records and even from websites and social media sites you use if they have good reason.

Using an incognito window will not have any effect on their ability to do any of this.

Hackers

Suppose a hacker wants to collect up data about your online activities. In that case, there are lots of ways they can do it and whether or not you are using an incognito window is usually irrelevant.

They might compromise your device with malware or spyware that allows them to monitor and log your online activity. They might exploit an unprotected public Wi-Fi network to access your internet data.

They might even intercept your insecure internet data in transit from your device to the websites you are visiting and hoover up any useful information it contains.

Incognito windows on their own will not prevent any of these potential breaches of your online privacy.

So, while using incognito windows does offer some privacy protections, it is not on its own an online privacy solution.

Given that the likes of Google and Microsoft run the most popular browsers, the very companies that make their gargantuan profits from exploiting the personal data of their users, this should come as no surprise.

However, using incognito windows are one part of an arsenal of privacy tools does help and in part two of this guide, we will be recommending what else you should be using too.

What Incognito mode does and doesn’t do

There are some privacy benefits to browsing the internet using incognito windows, but many areas where they don’t offer protection too.

Here is a summary of where incognito mode can and cannot help.

What Incognito Mode does do:

  • Clear browser history
  • Clear online forms and login details
  • Stop other people using your device from seeing your online activity
  • Remove cookies left on your device

What incognito mode doesn’t do:

  • Stop your ISP logging your online activity
  • Stop Google and other companies collecting your online data
  • Stop websites seeing your IP Address
  • Stop Government surveillance from monitoring your online activity
  • Stop hackers from viewing your online activity and collecting your data.

How to activate incognito mode

Incognito mode on its own might offer limited privacy protection, but that is not to say it isn’t worth using it. For some people, particularly those who use shared devices, it is an essential tool. As part of a suite of online security and privacy tools, it also has its place.

So, in this section, we are going to show you how you can activate incognito mode in the top 5 most popular internet browsers.

If you use a different browser, you are in a tiny minority, but the chances are it offers an equivalent of incognito windows too. A quick online search or a message to the provider should help you to get this set up pretty quickly.

Google Chrome

On Google Chrome, incognito mode is referred to using exactly that term. It can be started with just two clicks of the mouse:

  1. Open Google Chrome.
  2. Click on File or the three dots in the menu bar.
  3. Click on New Incognito Window.

Chrome incognito

This will open a new window in your browser with a darker colour scheme than the regular windows.

There will also be a notification in the centre of the window telling you that You’ve Gone Incognito. It will also explain how Incognito mode will help you to keep private and, to Google’s credit, how it doesn’t.

Safari

Safari refers to incognito mode as Private browsing, but getting it going on your device is just as simple.

  1. Open Safari.
  2. Click on File in the menu bar.
  3. Click on New Private Window.

Safari Inprivate

Safari will display a banner at the top of the page telling you Private Browsing Enabled. This banner also tells you what private browsing means, but not what it doesn’t offer.

Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla’s Firefox browser also refers to incognito mode as Private Browsing. Starting a private browsing session in Firefox follows the same method as Safari.

  1. Open Mozilla Firefox.
  2. Click on File in the menu bar.
  3. Click on New Private Window.

Firefox’s private browsing window opens up with a darker theme in much the same way as Chrome.

It announces Private Browsing with Tracking Protection and tells you what functions this feature offers and also why it doesn’t make you anonymous online.

Microsoft Edge

Microsoft’s Edge browser refers to incognito mode as InPrivate. It is also pretty simple to activate but does have a different method to the previous browsers we have covered.

  1. Open Microsoft Edge.
  2. Click on the More Actions button which appears to the right hand side of the address bar as three dots (…).
  3. Click on New InPrivate Window.

Edge Inprivate mode

This will open up a new window and tell you that you are now Browsing InPrivate. The page also explains what InPrivate does but there is no mention of what it doesn’t do.

Opera

The Opera browser also refers to incognito mode as Private browsing and works similarly to most other browsers, with just one small difference:

  1. Open Opera.
  2. Select Tabs and Windows from the menu bar.
  3. Choose Private Window.

Opera will tell you that you are now in Private Browsing mode and explain what that means.

They will also tell you that for even more privacy, you should turn on a VPN, something we heartily agree with, as you will see in Part Two of this guide.

Part Two: How to browse the internet privately

Browse privately

Incognito browsing does offer some degree on online privacy protection. But, as we have illustrated in Part One of this guide, it is not a solution to all online privacy risks.

Further Reading

Marc Saltzman of USAToday says “‘Incognito’ browsing isn’t really private” (Source).

However, if you use incognito browsing as part of a suite on online privacy protections, it is possible to keep yourself as private as possible online.

In this section, we are going to focus on what tools you need to use as part of your online privacy arsenal, alongside incognito browsing. We will outline how they will protect your online privacy and also recommend the best products and providers to use.

VPNs

Browsing VPN

As the Opera browser recommends when you enable their Private Browsing mode, for even more privacy, you need to turn on a VPN.

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and while this sounds extremely technical, it is actually a very simple tool that does two core things.

A VPN will redirect all of your online traffic down an encrypted tunnel.

This means that everything you do online is encoded and protected. If it is intercepted by a hacker, a government snoop, or anyone else, they will not be able to read it or gain any meaningful data from it.

Once this data has passed along this tunnel, it is then passed through one of your VPN providers servers before it is sent off to the website or online service you are trying to communicate with.

It’s important to note that once it leaves the VPN server, the data is decrypted making it readable again.

This step is vital because when it passes through this server, your data is tagged with the IP Address of that server, rather than your own internet connections IP Address.

This means, in theory, that very little you do online can be directly traced back to your internet connection and your location.

It also stops your ISP from being able to keep a record of what you are doing online.

They cannot see the content of your data because it is encrypted and once your data hits the VPN server, your ISP cannot trace it any further. As a result, they can only see you are connecting to that server and have no idea what websites you are using after that.

When you are using a VPN, you are making yourself almost anonymous online.

However, suppose you are using accounts that you log into, such as social media. In that case, it is possible to trace that activity back to you, but for visiting websites and other similar activities, a VPN offers a high degree of online privacy.

Learn More

Discover more about what a VPN is, how they work and what they do.

Choosing the right VPN

The VPN market has exploded in recent years and if you run a quick Google search for a VPN, you will find literally hundreds of different VPN providers all vying for your business.

The question is, how do you choose the right privacy-focused VPN for you?

The first rule to follow is a simple one. Avoid free VPNs if you value your online privacy.

Running a VPN involves some costs and if a VPN is not charging for its services, that means it is making its money some other way.

The most valuable thing a VPN has access to is your online data and it is highly likely that a free VPN is going to sell this data to third parties to make money. Obviously, this is a huge violation of your online privacy.

There is also significant evidence of many free VPNs being owned by entities in Communist China, where the regime requires all relevant data to be shared with the state.

Other free VPNs have been found to spread malware and adware, while some don’t even bother to encrypt your data.

Throw in slow speeds, data caps, and the various other restrictions that are commonplace with free VPNs, and they are simply not worth the hassle.

When you are choosing a VPN with privacy in mind, there are a number of key features you should be looking for:

A no user logs guarantee

This policy means that your VPN provider is promising not to collect and store any data about your online activities.

Most VPN providers will make this claim, but a few have had it independently verified. It is worth looking out for a provider with this extra guarantee.

Strong encryption

Premium VPNs will usually offer 256-bit AES encryption as standard. This is the absolute minimum you should be looking for.

Kill Switch

A kill switch will cut off your internet if your VPN connection goes down. It is designed to ensure that your data and IP Address can never be inadvertently leaked and so put your online privacy at risk.

Unblocked censored content

A lot of people use a VPN to unblock censored content safely without the risk of reprisals in countries where online freedoms are restricted, such as Communist China, Russia, and Iran.

You need to find a VPN that works in those countries to do this.

Works on all your devices

Most people access the internet on multiple devices these days. If you want to say safe on all of them, you need to choose a VPN that has apps for all the devices you use.

Simultaneous connections

You may well use more than one device at the same time to go online. Perhaps you want to share your VPN’s protections with family or friend? If so, you need to choose a VPN that allows you to have multiple simultaneous connections.

Some VPNs offer 10, 12, or even unlimited simultaneous connections these days. Make sure your one has enough for your needs.

Top 5 VPNs for Online Privacy

We have been testing all of the top VPNs for years now and this means we know which VPNs offer genuine privacy protections and which don’t.

So, if you are serious about keeping your online activities private, here is our rundown of the top 5 VPNs you should be choosing from:

1. ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN apps on multiple types of devices

ExpressVPN has been our Editor’s pick of the best VPNs on the market for a long time. It offers a superb combination of security and privacy protections, as well as a huge range of features, and is quite simply the leading VPN on the market right now.

ExpressVPN offers a no user logs guarantee that is 100% dependable. It has been tested and verified by PriceWaterhouseCooper (PWC) in a comprehensive independent privacy audit and means that your online privacy is guaranteed with them.

This VPN also offers robust 256-bit AES encryption as standard to all subscribers. There is a wide range of additional security features available too including a kill switch.

ExpressVPN has dedicated apps for Android, Apple iOS, Windows, Mac OS, Amazon Fire TV / Stick, Linux and some select routers. They also offer manual installation guides for most other devices too.

There are even web-browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Safari and you can connect up to five devices simultaneously. This means there is no reason not to be protected on all your devices.

ExpressVPN works just about everywhere including Communist China and the other oppressive regimes that limit citizen’s online rights without any problems at all.

It is not the cheapest VPN you will find, but there is a generous 30-day money back guarantee which lets you try them out for a month before spending any money. And if you decide to sign up now, you can save a huge 49% thanks to our exclusive offer for VPNCompare readers.

Read our full review of ExpressVPN to find out more.

2. NordVPN

NordVPN website

NordVPN is a high profile VPN that you may well have seen sponsoring the likes of Liverpool FC in the past and a number of prominent YouTubers. But its reputation is not all spin and marketing. It really does deliver on security and privacy.

It offers 256-bit AES encryption as standard as well as a huge selection of online security features including double-hop servers, Tor-over-VPN servers and that essential kill switch.

NordVPN has a no user logs guarantee that is rock solid. PWC has also verified theirs and this means you can trust NordVPN to always keep your data and your IP Address private.

NordVPN also has a wide range of user-friendly apps for Android, iOS, Windows, Mac OS, Amazon Fire TV Stick devices, and more.

They offer up to 6 simultaneous connections, so you can make sure all your devices are secure.

NordVPN prices are extremely low for such a high-quality provider and there is also a 30-day money back guarantee available for all users too.

Read our full review of NordVPN to find out more.

3. CyberGhost VPN

Cyberghost Website

CyberGhost VPN has ramped up its service considerably in the past couple of years and now offers an excellent VPN and one of the most user-friendly apps you will find.

The CyberGhost VPN apps can be used on almost every device including Android, iOS, Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Routers and the Amazon Fire TV Stick. They offer one click connections for a variety of different purposes and they also let you connect to as many as 7 devices at the same time.

For those users concerned about privacy, CyberGhost VPN comes with 256-bit AES encryption as standard and a no user logs guarantee you can depend on. It hasn’t, however, been verified.

CyberGhost will work in most countries around the world and prices are incredibly reasonable too. There is also an unbeatable 45-day money back guarantee on offer as well.

Read our full review of CyberGhost VPN to find out more.

4. IPVanish

IPVanish website

Once upon a time, IPVanish was regarded as among the very best VPNs on the market.

After an incident in 2018 when a historical law-enforcement case raised concerns over their no logs policy, this reputation was on the wane. But they have come back with a vengeance this year.

Their no user logs policy is now fully reaffirmed and they say with confidence that IPVanish is a privacy-friendly no logs VPN once more.

It also still offers robust 256-bit AES encryption as standard and some top additional security features too.

If you sign up to IPVanish, you can now connect an unlimited number of different devices simultaneously, which should be enough to protect all your devices and those of your family too.

IPVanish apps have always been excellent and this remains this case. They are available for a huge range of devices including Windows, Mac OS, Android, and Apple iOS as well as the Amazon Fire TV Stick, Linux, and more.

IPVanish has also belatedly decided to match their rivals and now offers a 30-day money back guarantee as well as some very competitive prices. For privacy-conscious users, it’s another safe choice.

Read our full review of IPVanish to find out more.

5. Surfshark

Surfshark Website screengrab

Surfshark VPN is a new provider that has made a massive impact on its competitors since it burst onto the VPN scene back in 2018.

It offers strong 256-bit AES encryption to all users and also comes with a whole host of security features. There is a comprehensive no user logs guarantee and an excellent and concise privacy policy that they claim you can trust.

Surfshark has user-friendly apps available for all the main device and works in most countries around the world. It has been working recently in China but can be hit and miss month-to-month.

The subscription prices for Surfshark are extremely competitive and there is a 30-day money back guarantee available as standard. Another safe and private choice.

Read our full review of Surfshark to find out more.

Other anonymising tools

Anonymising tools

A VPN is not the only online tool that can help to keep your online data private. It is the most comprehensive and, in our view, the best, but if you want to try another option, there are a few things out there you can turn to.

In this section, we will take a look at the main ones and explain their pros and cons.

The Tor Network

Tor network

Tor stands for The Onion Router.

This is not a reference to the popular US satirical website but rather an actual onion which comes with many different layers. The Tor network functions similarly to this, hence the name.

To use the Tor network easily, you will need to download the Tor browser. This can be done for free and it is openly and readily available online.

When you browse the internet, the Tor browser will redirect your internet traffic down a number of different nodes.

These nodes are effectively other users of the Tor network and by bouncing your internet data around these nodes, you are repeatedly changing the IP Address of your data, which makes it harder to track.

Your data is also encrypted each time and the IP Address of the node you are connecting to is also hidden for greater privacy protection.

There is no denying the effectiveness of the Tor network in keeping your online data private, but there are some downsides to using it which are not found with a VPN.

Firstly, there is speed. When your data is redirected through a VPN server, your internet speed is slowed down a little. Usually, this slowness is barely noticeable to VPN users.

But because the Tor network bounces your data around multiple nodes, this can slow down your internet connection quite a lot.

If you have a super-fast connection, you may not notice too much difference but if you are already on a slower connection, this difference in speed can really be felt.

Tor was created in conjunction with the US Navy and is known to be used by government agencies as well as many online criminals. This means that government agencies are more likely to know their way around it and also watch Tor users much more closely too.

While the Tor network does encrypt data travelling between nodes, it doesn’t encrypt it on the final journey to the website.

That means unless you are visiting a website protected by SSL encryption, your data could be visible and it may even be possible for the ’exit node’ (the last one in the chain) to sniff your data.

Further Reading

Paul Ducklin of Sophos Naked Security says “if you use Tor to browse to a non-HTTPS (unencrypted) web page, then the Tor exit node that handles your traffic can not only snoop on and modify your outgoing web requests but also mess with any replies that come back.” (Source).

It should be noted that this is also true of a VPN.

Proxies

Browsing proxies

A proxy is a great tool for unblocking overseas content and for things like streaming, online gaming, and downloading.

Like a VPN, a proxy will redirect your internet traffic through a proxy server to hide your IP Address. This allows you to unblock content from other countries and also provides a basic level of privacy protection.

Unlike a VPN, a proxy does not offer any encryption, which means it is not as secure or private. This difference means it could offer faster speeds but these come at the expense of the additional privacy protections that encryption provides.

Proxies tend to offer limited servers which means there are only a few countries you can unblock content from.

They often also require you to enter the website URL into the proxy webpage, although proxies can be configured to work with some other apps and software.

Proxies have their place, but for privacy-conscious users, they are a poor substitute for a VPN.

Private Browsers

Private browsers

So far, we have focused on the incognito modes offered by the most commonly used web browsers. As we have noted, these are mostly operated by big tech companies that have an interest in accessing their user data since this is what drives their profits.

Incognito modes only offer a certain degree of privacy protection, which we have already highlighted. But if you want to browse the internet using a more secure and privacy-friendly browser, there are some other options on the market.

Further Reading

The UK’s Metropolitan Police Service in relation to Incognito mode, says “it is still possible for someone to find information about your internet browsing and sites you have been visiting” (Source).

These browsers are run by independent companies and are focused on offering users a privacy-friendly internet browsing experience rather than hoovering up their data to maximise their profits.

This can mean that they operate on relatively small budgets and this can impact the user experience a little when compared to browser operated by a corporate behemoth like Google.

But if privacy is your priority, they have an awful lot to offer and below we have picked out our top five privacy-friendly browsers.

Brave

Brave is a browser that has been developed by a former Mozilla Firefox staffer and aims to take online privacy to the next level.

It is an open-source Chromium-based browser that blocks all ads and trackers by default, protects against browser fingerprinting, uses HTTPS Everywhere to upgrade all links to the most secure option, and also has a built-in script blocker.

Since last year, Brave has had its own ad programme, which is a shame in some ways but inevitable in others.

This programme has attracted some criticism but for a user-friendly and privacy-friendly browser that you can use straight out of the box, there are few browsers around that beat Brave.

Iridium

The Iridium browser is also based on Chromium and supports Google Chrome extensions which is a big selling point for a lot of users.

But it is also configured for privacy and offers a wide range of security and privacy enhancements on top of the basic Chromium browser. These include blocking cookies by default and not logging any user activity.

Iridium is entirely open-source which means its code can be closely scrutinised and picked apart and in our tests, it has proved to be extremely user-friendly too.

Ungoogled Chromium browser

As the name suggests, this is another privacy-focused browser that is built onto Chromium. The idea behind this project was to create a version of Google Chrome that did away with all the privacy concerns that come with the original.

It has done away with the dependency on Google Web Services and added some tweaks to enhance user privacy, transparency, and control.

The result is a really nice browser that brings all the positive points that Google Chrome can offer without any of the downsides.

GNU IceCat browser

GNU IceCat is a fork from the Firefox browser, which is probably the most privacy-friendly of the main browsers we have covered in this guide.

It has made a number of tweaks to the browser to make it even more private and included a few privacy-enhancing add-ons in the mix too.

Features now included with GNU IceCat as standard include LibreJS, HTTPS-Everywhere, SpyBlock, AboutIceCat, Fingerprinting countermeasures. This makes it a high-quality and privacy-friendly internet browser.

Pale Moon

Pale Moon is an open-source fork of Mozilla Firefox which offers high levels of customisability as well as supporting Firefox addons on top of its own.

It has a slightly dated design but is extremely lightweight and fast as well as offering a wide variety of customisations.

This means that you can set the privacy settings to suit your needs, which is great for advanced users. It doesn’t, however, mean that settings are in place by default so you do need to play around with things yourself.

All of these browsers offer a privacy-friendly alternative to the likes of Chrome and Safari and all come with our recommendation. But it is important to remember that even with the most privacy-friendly of browsers, your online privacy is still not guaranteed.

Websites also retain data and there are any number of ways that your data can be intercepted too.

Privacy-friendly browsers are another tool in your arsenal, but they need to be used in conjunction with the other privacy tools in this section to give you the best possible chance of keeping safe and private online.

Private Search Engines

Private search

If you are still determined to remain loyal to your existing browser, or you want to go the whole hog and do everything possible to protect your online privacy, another tool you can turn to is a privacy-friendly search engine.

If you are already using a privacy-friendly browser as an alternative to Google Chrome, but still use Google as your search engine, you are essentially giving them a fresh opportunity to keep tabs on your online activity.

But there are plenty of privacy-friendly search engines around that offer a better and more private option.

These engines will not log your searches and details of the websites you visit; they will not use your searches to aim adverts at you; and they will not drop cookies onto your device to allow other websites to harvest your user data too.

Below, you will find our top 5 recommended privacy search engines. Read carefully though, because as you will see, even some of these have a few nasty hidden surprises that some privacy-conscious readers might not like:

Metager

Metager is a German open-source metasearch engine that compiles results from the likes of Bing, Yandex, Yahoo and others as well as having its own web crawler too.

When it sources a link from another browser, it tells you on the results page and there is also a nice feature that lets you search results by data/language, and so on.

Metager protects your privacy by converting search requests into anonymous queries through a proxy server. Your IP address is truncated when you use Metager, which helps to protect your privacy and Metager uses no cookies or other tracking tools.

It does retain a small amount of data but this is deleted after 96 hours. Free users will get some adverts but if you choose to subscribe, the service becomes ad-free.

Being based in Germany means Metager is subject to solid privacy laws and its open-source coding means it has been closely scrutinised.

Searx

Searx is another open-source metasearch engine that works in a similar way to Metager.

It compiles results from other search engines. Searx scrapes Google among other sites but this does mean that their own site is blocked on Google as a result. It does mean it sometimes doesn’t get Google results coming up too.

Searx is a highly customisable browser. It lets you choose which search engines to cover and sorts results by a variety of different categories.

It uses public instances which can have a privacy downside because anyone can set up one of these and potentially log user data passing through it. Such an occurrence is unlikely though and Searx is, generally speaking, an extremely privacy-friendly browser.

Qwant

Qwant is French-based search engine that sources its results primarily from Bing. Qwant guarantees no user tracking and that they don’t use any cookies making it extremely privacy-friendly.

Like Searx, Quant offers good search filter options and even allows you to filter results by different categories such as images, websites, news, and social media posts. It also offers a homepage that includes news stories, trending people, events, and interest stories.

Qwant is already a big deal in France where it is one of the top 50 most used websites. And its global audience continues to grow rapidly as well.

DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is perhaps one of the best known privacy-friendly search engines on the web and is one that we have talked about before on VPNCompare.

It is US-based and generates results from more than 400 different online sources, including Wikipedia, Bing, Yandex, and Yahoo, with whom it has an especially close relationship.

DuckDuckGo has a long privacy policy which is primarily focused on the privacy flaws of other search engines.

Down at the bottom of this policy, DuckDuckGo reveals that it is actually saving your search history too. It insists this data is not identifiable because they “do not store IP addresses or unique User agent strings.”

However, this is not ideal for a privacy-friendly search engine and there is scant information about what it does with the information it does store.

StartPage

Startpage was, for a long time, the top recommended privacy-focused search engines on the market. It was Dutch-based and ticked all the right boxes, with no tracking, no storage of user data, and a great record of turning up accurate results.

However, last year, StartPage was acquired (wholly or partially, it isn’t yet 100% clear) by a US company called System1. There are significant concerns about this company and how it generates profit.

An analysis of other strands of the business and its previous business dealings suggests that it makes its money by harvesting and selling data and profiling its users.

This business model raises serious questions about the level of privacy StartPage is able to offer its users and the company’s reluctance to announce their new ownership and lack of transparency over the changes made have to leave users fearing the worst.

Conclusion

Conclusion

The short answer to the question in the title of this guide, how private is an incognito window, is ‘a bit private’.

Incognito mode, which has different names with different browsers, does offer some limited privacy protections and is worth using. In this guide, we have gone into more detail about this, explaining how an incognito window can keep you private online.

But we have also delved deeper into the ways in which it doesn’t help too. Our conclusion to this first section of the guide was that incognito browsing was best used as part of a broader suite of online privacy tools.

We then moved onto part two in which we outlined the other key tools that you need to use alongside an incognito window if you are serious about online privacy.

We looked in detail at VPNs, explaining how they work, the ways in which they keep your online data private, and we also explained how to choose private VPN and recommended the top 5 VPNs on the market right now.

We touched on a couple of other online privacy tools that do a similar job to VPNs, but in our view, less effectively. Then we moved on to outline some of the most popular privacy-friendly browsers and search engines that are available right now.

If you pull all of these tools together, it is possible to maintain your privacy when using the internet and there is no doubt that incognito mode can play an important role in this.

But if you want to rely on incognito windows alone for your online privacy, you have to accept that your online data is just not going to be all that private.

Have you already implemented any of the tips in this guide or do you have further recommendations? I would love to know so drop me a comment below.

David Spencer

Author: David Spencer

Cyber-security & Technology Reporter, David, monitors everything going on in the privacy world. Fighting for a less restricted internet as a member of the VPNCompare team for over 3 years.

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

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