Is Private Browsing Really Private?

Seventy-six percent (page 13) of Americans who use private browsing don't know its benefits. Under 24% of private browsing users can accurately describe its boundaries as a byproduct.

All other users who utilize it are underestimating the protections private browsing offers. Or they overestimate the protections, not grasping the privacy protections’ limits.

private browsing

There are Many Misconceptions About Private Browsing

Part of the reason so many internet users do not understand the boundaries of private browsing is due to misconceptions.

Almost 36% (page 14) of Americans who use a private browser are doing so under the belief that private browsing “prevents search engines from knowing my searches.”

This is not the case, nor is it the case that private browsing stops websites or ads from tracking a user.

All Internet Users Need to Know the Abilities and Limits of Private Mode

Private modes within browsers are some of the most valuable and unique solutions for problems in modernity. However, these modes are only helpful when their boundaries are recognized, and their limitations are known.

What is Private Browsing?

Depending on a particular person’s browser, the name for a private mode may change. For Internet Explorer or Microsoft Edge, the mode is called InPrivate; Firefox, Safari, and Opera call it private browsing; and finally, Chrome refers to it as Incognito Mode.

Private modes will conceal a user's history by not tracking a series of information usually present. For example, cookies, usernames, passwords, or search histories disappear. What this means is that someone can use a private mode and have (nearly) no trace of their activity.

Private Modes Offer Protection but not From Everyone

Unfortunately, this is where many users assume that because they have none of the information put into the private browser, the internet also does not have that information.

In reality, many people and organizations can still track your private browsing. Company-owned devices can easily expose any personal use. At the same time, the government can also track and follow the information put into private modes.

Therefore, private browsing, while it protects the user from other people physically in the area—does not provide complete privacy. It is a common misconception to treat it as if it does give a user total privacy. The only way to have a fully protected private presence online is by enlisting additional protections and the correct tools.

How Does it Work?

Private browsing works by creating a separate “instance” of your browser. This distinct instance overlays the regular browser, and then when leaving, the private browser deletes everything done in that instance. In other words, it works by creating a destroyable version of your regular browser.

Some of the information that the private browser will destroy upon leaving the private mode include:

  • Search histories
  • Cookies or trackers
  • Sites visited or interacted with
  • Videos watched or pictures seen
  • Usernames and passwords

If Private Mode has Limitations, Does it Really Work?

Yes, private modes do work to keep your internet browsing confidential. The modes just don’t have the extra ability to keep all your activity hidden from all encroaching entities.

Employers, the government, and your service provider can quickly look back in time on your devices to find information. At the same time, private modes do not have additional security (unless using the Opera VPN private mode).

Hackers and cybercriminals can still "see" and use the information they can access as a result. Further, your device can still become infected with viruses, malware, keyloggers, or any other injection-based, malicious activity.

When Should We Use Private Modes?

Private modes are helpful for more than just the standard porn and ex-partner Facebook stalking. There are many reasons why a user would choose private browsing over regular. Consider some of the following reasons:

  • When using unfamiliar devices (or networks): Don’t use, let alone save, personal data on foreign devices or networks. Using a private mode in a hotel or library will ensure there is none of your data after you’ve left.
  • When utilizing multiple accounts: Some people have many accounts on one website; this can be for many reasons. For example, taking advantage of free offers and coupons or having dedicated accounts for different interests or work.
  • When looking up public records: Victims of abuse should always use a private mode to look for any public records. Utilizing private mode will ensure that whoever they are looking up cannot use that against them maliciously.

Ways to Surf the Web Anonymously

For those who want to surf the web completely anonymously—there are ways around the tracking that private browsing allows.

Note: Private browsing and anonymity are impossible because private modes allow tracking for entities like the government.

Before anyone can surf the web anonymously, they need to understand how the internet tracks information in the first place. There are three main types of tracking:

  • Cookies: These are small parts of internet code stored on your device. These bits help websites work correctly by providing unique information about you.
  • IP address tracking: Your IP address signifies your device on the internet. Websites often use information about your IP to make informed choices to influence your behavior and perception.
  • Pixel tracking: This allows a tiny marker to track your device activity. These can be in emails or web pages.

It is difficult to stop these procedures on most devices. It is much easier to implement tools to eliminate these tracking services instead. Consider some of these anonymity tools:

  • VPNs or proxy servers: Proxy servers hide your IP Address—well, no, it changes it to somewhere else. While VPNs stop others from seeing what you are doing online. VPNs also encrypt networks, better protecting a user from cyber threats.
  • Use specific anti-tracking software: Even though browser producers are difficult to block, utilizing software to do it for you—is a great way to obtain anonymity.
  • Use a private email and a private search engine: Anonymous emails are all encrypted, and many do not ask for personal information. At the same time, avoiding big search engines like Google or Bing is essential. These engines track your data aggressively.


Private browsing allows users to explore the internet, although not entirely anonymously. Private browsing is handy, but its limitations must be kept in mind.