How private is “incognito mode?”

Dec 1, 2023, 5:14 PM

a person types on a laptop...

(Igor Mazej, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

(Igor Mazej, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

SALT LAKE CITY — Have you ever used “incognito mode” while browsing on Google Chrome? A similar service on Firefox is called private browsing. If you hover over the icon for your search engine and right-click, you’ll see the option for the incognito search, but what does it really do?

“It’s kind of a misnomer in some ways,” said Christina Baum, Vice President of Digital Transformation and Chief Information Officer for Utah Valley University. “What it does, actually, is only track cookies within that incognito session. When you close that session, the cookies are removed.”

Baum says cookies are essentially just “little bits of code” left on your machine to track where you go, what you see and what you’re doing within a session.

“It’s kind of a misnomer because people think it will protect them from perhaps malware, ads or tracking and, in some ways, it does not,” she explained. “Malware can still get through just like it can on any other browser session.”

People think when they’re in incognito mode that they can’t be tracked, but ad trackers are craftier and craftier.

“They’re able to have a digital fingerprint where they can actually look at what browser you’re using, what add-ons you may have installed, even your IP address,” Baum said.

When should I use incognito mode?

Using incognito or private browsing can be valuable if you’re using a public computer or sharing a computer.

“That’s a valuable time to use it because you don’t want your search history to remain after the session is closed,” Baum explained.

For instance, maybe you’re sharing a family computer to look up Christmas presents. “You might not want your kids to be able to look back at your browsing history when you close that session,” Baum advised.

If you’re really looking to protect your privacy, you might try a whole different browser than Chrome or Firefox.

“There is one called Brave,” Baum shared. “It’s an open source. They get their revenue through banner ads, but they’re not targeted. They don’t have the same trackers and cookies being stored. So, it allows you to search in a way that protects you a little bit more.”

Firefox also has an added privacy feature. “Facebook Container” is a built-in Facebook blocker that prevents the it from tracking you on other sites.

“If you want more security and privacy, you can also use a VPN,” Baum said. “A Virtual Private Network is essentially a kind of tunnel that obscures your IP address, but that’s not foolproof either.”

Will you accept cookies?

As you visit new websites for Christmas shopping purposes, you’ll be asked repeatedly, “Will you accept cookies?” Does it matter if you accept them or not?

“If you can, click past that request,” Baum said. “But no matter whether you accept or reject cookies, these sites are going to use cookies to track you in some way.”

Unless you’re on the Brave search engine or some similar browser that doesn’t save your search history.

“It’s important to remember that when something is free, like Facebook, then you’re the product,” Baum advised. “Your data becomes the product the company is selling. So be smart as you’re browsing.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Science + Technology

the skull of the new dinosaur, Lokiceratops rangiformis, is shown...

Alexandrea Bonilla

New dinosaur unveiled at Natural History Museum of Utah

The new dinosaur is called Lokiceratops rangiformis, aka the giant horned dinosaur. It was discovered in northern Montana.

20 hours ago

drivers memorial day...

Curt Gresseth

Is it time for Utah to bring back photo cop to bust speeders?

A Utah lawmaker joins the show to discuss a possible return of photo radar to bust speeders.

4 days ago

It’s the first annual Miss AI Pageant. Each of the contestants is so beautiful they could stop tr...

Jeff Caplan

Jeff Caplan’s Minute of News: The Miss AI Pageant

The women are artificial. The prize money is real.

7 days ago

AT&T car shown, the service was down for some...

Jessica Lowell

AT&T customers unable to call non-AT&T users

AT&T was partially down for customers nationwide on Tuesday as they were unable to make calls to non-AT&T users.

17 days ago

cultivated, or lab-grown meat...

Sam Herrera

LISTEN: Why lab-grown meat isn’t available in US grocery stores or restaurants

Learn more about lab-grown meat on Jeff Caplan's Afternoon News.

18 days ago

TikTok and its Chinese parent company ByteDance are suing the U.S. federal government over a law th...

Becky Bruce

Utah names TikTok in new lawsuit over “virtual strip club”

The lawsuit was filed by the Utah Division of Consumer Protection over TikTok's live video streaming feature, TikTok LIVE.

18 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Underwater shot of the fisherman holding the fish...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Your Bear Lake fishing guide

Bear Lake offers year-round fishing opportunities. By preparing ahead of time, you might go home with a big catch!

A group of people cut a purple ribbon...


Comcast announces major fiber network expansion in Utah

Comcast's commitment to delivering extensive coverage signifies a monumental leap toward a digitally empowered future for Utahns.

a doctor putting her hand on the chest of her patient...

Intermountain Health

Intermountain nurse-midwives launch new gynecology access clinic

An access clinic launched by Intermountain nurse-midwives provides women with comprehensive gynecology care.

Young couple hugging while a realtor in a suit hands them keys in a new home...

Utah Association of Realtors

Buying a home this spring? Avoid these 5 costly pitfalls

By avoiding these pitfalls when buying a home this spring, you can ensure your investment will be long-lasting and secure.

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.


Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

How private is “incognito mode?”