How to go incognito in Chrome, Edge, Firefox and Safari

While 'incognito' mode in any of the big four web browsers offers a measure of privacy, it doesn't completely hide your tracks online. Here's how the feature works, and how to use it.

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Side note: Early in private browsing, the label porn mode was often used as a synonym to describe what many writers and reporters assumed was the primary application of the feature. The term has now fallen out of general use.

To open what Safari calls a Private Window on a Mac, users can do a three-key combination of Command-Shift-N, the same shortcut Chrome adopted.

Otherwise, a window can be called up by selecting the File menu and clicking on New Private Window.

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From the File menu (1), New Private Window (2) gets you started.

Safari tags each Private Window by darkening the address bar. It also issues a reminder of what it does – or more accurately – what it doesn't do. "Safari will keep your browsing history private for all tabs of this window. After you close this window, Safari won't remember the pages you visited, your search history or your AutoFill information," the top of the page note reads. The warning is more terse than those of other browsers and omits cautions about still-visible online activity.

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The darkened address bar up at the top is the signal that this Safari window is for private browsing.

Like Firefox, Safari automatically engages additional privacy technologies, whether the user browses in standard or private mode. Safari's Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP), which kicked off in 2017 and has been repeatedly upgraded since, now blocks all third-party cookies, among other components advertisers and services use to track people as they bounce from one site to another. ITP is controlled by a single on-off switch – on is the default – found in Preferences under the Privacy icon. If the Website tracking: box is checked to mark Prevent cross-site tracking, ITP is on.

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Switching on cross-site tracking enables Safari's Intelligent Tracking Protection, which blocks a wide variety of bits advertisers try to use to follow you around the web while you're using a Private Window

A link can be opened directly to a Private Window by pressing the Option key while right-clicking, then selecting Open Link in New Private Window<. This is a slightly clumsier way to get there than in Chrome or Firefox, largely because unless one regularly call up the privacy mode it's too easy to forget about the Option key.

Close a Private Window just as any Safari window, by clicking the red dot in the upper left corner of the browser frame.

Pro tip: Once in a Safari Private Window, opening a new tab — either by clicking the + icon at the upper right or by using the Command-T key combo — omits the Private Browsing Enabled notice. Other browsers, such as Firefox, repeat their cautionary messages each time a tab is opened in an incognito session.

More privacy tips

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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