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March 14, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 11:12am

5 things you need to know about Google Chrome’s Incognito

Chrome's private browsing mode: how to activate it and does it protect you from secret agents?

By Ben Sullivan

Google Chrome’s Incognito mode enables ‘private browsing’, which means web pages you open and files you download while you’re in Incognito mode aren’t recorded in your browsing and download histories.

Cookies are deleted after you close the Incognito tab, and bookmarks and general settings while in Incognito mode are all still there.

Google says Incognito is "for times when you want to browse the web without saving certain info". Here’s our list of five things that you need to know about Chrome’s Incognito…

How to activate Incognito

When in a Google Chrome session, you can go the top right of Chrome, where you will see the menu button, and from there click to bring up a drop down menu. The third option down is ‘new incognito window’ which will start your Incognito browsing session in a new window.

Alternatively, you can use the shortcut shift+ctrl+n to bring up a new Incognito browsing session.


Sign out of your Google accounts before using Incognito

While using Incognito on Chrome doesn’t save your web browsing history, if you are signed in on a Google account whilst using Incognito, searches WILL be saved in Google’s own web history. Check out this supporting document from Google that explains it all clearly:

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"Browsing in incognito mode only keeps Google Chrome from storing information about the websites you’ve visited. The websites you visit may still have records of your visit. Any files saved to your computer or mobile devices will still remain.

For example, if you sign into your Google Account on while in incognito mode, your subsequent web searches are recorded in your Google Web History. In this case, to prevent your searches from being stored in your Google Account, you’ll need to pause your Google Web History tracking."

Furthermore, if you are using Chrome Incognito on iOS (iPhones and iPads) then Incognito tabs share HTML5 local storage with regular tabs meaning "the same sites can always access their data in this storage in both regular and incognito* tabs. Incognito* tabs will still keep browsing history and cookies separate from regular tabs, which are cleared once those tabs are closed."



How to automatically launch Google Chrome in Incognito mode

First, put a shortcut to Google Chrome on your desktop.


From there, you can rename it if you wish. Perhaps something like ‘Private browsing’, although that would be fairly obvious if you are trying to be ‘incognito’.

Right click the shortcut, then select properties.

Go to the shortcut tab, then in the taget field add a ‘-incognito’ to the end of the path, and also make sure there is a space between the end of the last apostrophe and the start of the dash. Apply and save, and there you go. Launch from this shortcut and Chrome will go straight to Incognito mode.


Incognito doesn’t protect you from secret agents

As of February, Chrome Incognito no longer keeps you safe from the prying eyes of secret agents looking over your shoulder. Let us explain…

Up until last month, the ‘warning’ that users encountered when opening up an Incognito session read: "Pages you view in this tab won’t appear in your browser history or search history, and they won’t leave other traces, like cookies, on your device after you close all incognito tabs. Any files you download or bookmarks you create will be preserved, however. Going incognito doesn’t affect the behavior of other people, servers, or software . Be wary of surveillance by secret agents or people standing behind you."


But now: "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. Going incognito doesn’t affect the behavior of other people, servers, software, or people standing behind you."

It seems as though, in our post-Snowden revelations society, Google cannot stop ‘secret agents’ from seeing what users are up to on the web, so it’s probably best it removes this comical bit of advice.

Other ‘private’ modes in browsers

Google doesn’t actually command a monopoly over private browsing. On Safari on iOS 7, tap the top right ‘+’ symbol, then in the bottom left a ‘private’ button appears.

Using private Safari on a laptop or desktop is just as easy. Go to the Safari menu near the top left, click it, and drop down menu will display the private browsing option about half way down.

In Firefox, go to the top left, select the Firefox menu, and ‘start private browsing’ will also appear. The shortcut for private browsing on Firefox is ctrl+shift+p. If using an older version of Firefox, the shortcut is still the same but the toggle can be found under tools.

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