Most of you may know that Google Chrome has an “Incognito” feature that allows you to browse the web without leaving any trace. Although there is a lot of discussion and debate about what exactly happens in Incognito mode, it is almost unanimously agreed upon by privacy advocates and security experts alike that Incognito does not guarantee anonymity.
In a review conducted by CBS’ 60 Minutes, experts were asked to perform multiple experiments while using different browsers in Incognito mode to test their anonymity. The experts all agree that websites visited still have traces of the user’s history stored on them even when using Incognito Mode.
So, let’s discuss a couple of ways that somebody can still track you when in Incognito Mode.
Why Do People Use Google Chrome’s Incognito Mode?
Before we get into any of the technical details, let’s first discuss some reasons people might want to use Incognito Mode. Users who wish to remain anonymous and not leave records of their browsing on websites they visit may use Incognito Mode to maintain that anonymity while still having access to the web.
Additionally, if a user is using their computer in an environment where they do not wish for others to see what they are browsing or researching, Incognito may provide them with a useful tool for that reason.
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For example, if a user wants to find job prospects on an employer’s computer or a user simply wants to browse profiles on a sugar baby website without their significant other knowing, Incognito Mode is a great way to do it without leaving a record.
Common Uses of Google Chrome’s Incognito Mode
Some common uses of Incognito mode are as follows:
- To anonymously research potentially embarrassing topics
- To anonymously read news stories about controversial topics such as politics and sexual health
- To protect privacy while browsing at work or a friend’s house
- To research job prospects or other prospects without leaving records of these searches on your computer
- To maintain anonymity when looking for online dating prospects
As you can see, there are perfectly good reasons why somebody would want to use Incognito Mode to keep their private browsing private. Up until now, however, there was a major problem that left people vulnerable while using Incognito Mode.
How does Google Chrome’s Incognito Mode Leave You Vulnerable?
Google Chrome Incognito Mode protects you when you are using someone else’s computer. If you are trying to be anonymous, your browsing behavior might put you in danger.
When you browse sites in Google Chrome, the history is recorded in local storage on the browser. This way when you go back to a site in Incognito mode or another browser session; the site will still load like normal for you since it has already been stored locally by Google Chrome.
The problem with this is that if anyone were to get access to the local storage file (which can be done via malware), they could see exactly what websites have been visited and how long ago they were visited. This makes identifying patterns much easier for malicious actors.
While Incognito Mode does not clear the Google Chrome history, it will delete the local storage files that store your browsing history. This means that when you switch back to normal mode or close out of Google Chrome; there is no record of anything you did online while in Incognito Mode.
The problem with this is that anyone who gets access to your computer can easily see what sites you’ve visited just by opening Google Chrome. If they know where to look (i.e., at something like “%localappdata%\Google\Chrome\User Data”), this information could be very compromising depending on what websites were visited and how recently they were accessed.
What Can You Do to Stay More Anonymous?
There are a lot of things that can be done to stay anonymous, but Malwarebytes always recommends being especially cautious when browsing the web. It is important to not access sites you are not familiar with if you know your activity can be tracked.
If you are trying to keep yourself anonymous there are ways to do so by only accessing the information you need and clearing out all records and history as soon as possible.
When using Incognito Mode:
Remember, anything visited in Incognito mode stays in Google Chrome’s local storage on your computer until it is cleared or manually deleted; this includes files downloaded and bookmarks added
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re automatically anonymous just because you’re using Incognito Mode – remember, anyone, can access Google Chrome’s local storage files to see what sites you’ve been visiting
Clear the browsing data as soon as possible after closing out of Google Chrome or switching back to normal mode – this means clear your cache and cookies from sites, empty the download list, history, etc.
Other Web Browsers to Consider for Anonymous Surfing?
Firefox has a similar ‘In Private’ browsing mode that deletes all local storage files when you close out of the browser, erasing your history and cookies. In addition to this, Firefox also encrypts your history data before it gets stored locally, which makes it much harder for anyone with access to your computer or Google Chrome’s local storage file to know who you are or what you’ve been doing online.
If you are really trying to stay anonymous, the Tor Browser is a great option. The Tor browser aims at keeping your activity anonymous by bouncing around all your traffic through various servers located across the world.
This means that when you access a site in the Tor Browser it will look like an IP address from somewhere else in the world rather than where you are located. Of course, this does have its own set of problems, so we recommend learning more about how this works and what risks using it entails here:
The Opera Browser offers a new feature that it calls ‘Vault.’ This function does things like what Incognito Mode provides by erasing your browsing data after you close out of the browser, but it adds an additional layer of security with encryption algorithms. By using this option, anything you download and save is encrypted before it’s stored on your computer.
It’s not always easy to keep your browsing private, but there are options out there. The best thing you can do is be educated on the risks involved and make smart choices about what you click on and where you go online.