The Truth about Incognito Mode

Brandon McCauley
Brandon McCauley
August 31st, 2021
incognito mode

Privacy has remained one of the most paramount topics across the globe, especially within the United States. In fact, emphasis on privacy can be traced as far back as 1890, in which two lawyers from Harvard Law School understood “the principle which protects personal writings and any other productions of the intellect or the emotions, is the right to privacy” in their article, “The Right to Privacy.” Even though those words were published well-over a century ago, many Americans still share the same sentiment. While politics has grown increasingly partisan, a survey conducted by Morning Consult found that Democrats (86%) and Republicans (81%) overwhelmingly believed that Congress should make privacy a “top” or “important but lower” priority in 2021. In the same survey, nearly three-quarters (72%) of voters said Congress is responsible for regulating data collection. However, despite privacy remaining one of the most prevalent topics, certain privacy features, such as “incognito mode,” are often misunderstood.

Incognito Mode in the Public Eye

Incognito mode is quite possibly one of the most well-known privacy functions available on the Internet. According to Elie Bursztein, a researcher from Google, just over two-thirds of people (67%) knew what private browsing was. Even though incognito mode certainly has name-recognition, it is not nearly used in the same capacity, and is often used under false preconceptions. In the same study, Bursztein discovered that only a mere 34.5% used incognito mode consistently, and among that same group of people:

  • 54% use incognito mode to hide from the websites they visit
  • 20% use incognito mode to hide from their Internet Service Provider (ISP)
  • 16% use incognito mode to hide from people who manage their network

Unfortunately for those respondents, those are not what incognito mode is designed to do.

incognito window

The Misconceptions of Incognito Mode

To many, this screen should look familiar. It is the first window that opens when you launch incognito mode. While many forego this screen to search in what they believe to be “private,” they miss critical information that explicitly states that incognito “doesn’t hide your browsing from your employer, your internet service provider, or the websites you visit.” When compared to the aforementioned statistics, it becomes evident that a majority of those that use incognito mode are completely unaware as to what it actually does.

The Reality of Incognito Mode

Even though there are many misconceptions around incognito mode, it can still be a great tool for privacy purposes. More specifically, Norton, an antivirus company, emphasizes that incognito mode can:

  • Delete cookies from the websites you access
  • Keep your browsing history empty on your device
  • Prevent third parties from collecting your data (e.g., your location)

Overall, to those who want to keep their digital footprint as small as possible, you cannot go wrong when using incognito mode, so long as you understand its true functionality.

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