Ask Leo! #652 – What Good is Incognito Mode?

Final Reminder: Excel Macros for Beginners

The doors to Allen Wyatt's Excel Macros for Beginners course close on Thursday the 18th. If you're at all on the fence, you have until then to sign up. Either way, the free videos are free and worth checking out.

What Good is Incognito Mode?


I use incognito mode in my web browser to keep my online activities private. I mentioned that to a friend and he said it wasn't private at all. If he's right … what's the point?

You're both right, and you're both wrong.

Incognito mode in Google Chrome, also referred to as "Private" or "InPrivate" in Firefox, Internet Explorer, Edge, and other browsers, protects your privacy to a point.

It's critical to know where that is, because beyond that point, Incognito does exactly nothing to keep you more private.

The Incognito line

The good news is that the point to which Incognito has effect, and beyond which it has no effect at all, is easy to understand.

Incognito affects only the information stored in your computer. Information stored or seen elsewhere is completely unaffected by Incognito.

Incognito does disable extensions

Entering Incognito mode varies based on browser, and there are multiple ways, but in Chrome, click on the ellipsis menu at the right end of the menu bar, and click on "New Incognito Window".

New Incognito Window

You can browse within that window normally, with the exception that your browser extensions may not be enabled in Incognito. If you need an extension to work in Incognito mode (for example, perhaps you need your password management software to be enabled) you'll need to enable it in the browser's extensions page. When you do, your browser may point out:

Warning: Google Chrome cannot prevent extensions from recording your browsing history. To disable this extension in Incognito mode, unselect this option.

Browser extensions are one way your activities can be exposed, so disabling them by default makes a lot of sense. You can then choose which extensions you trust.

Incognito does delete history

The primary function of Incognito mode is that it doesn't save any history. This comes into play when you close the Incognito window or exit your browser. At that time, the following information about your Incognito activities is deleted:

  • The history of websites you visited within Incognito windows (though any bookmarks you create will be retained).
  • The history of files you've downloaded within Incognito windows (though the files themselves are left intact).
  • The history of searches kept by the browser.
  • Cookies left by the sites you've visited within Incognito windows.
  • Form-fill information entered into Incognito windows that would normally be remembered for future auto-complete.
  • The browser cache related to your Incognito activities.

Any normal, non-Incognito windows are unaffected.

The idea is that once you exit an Incognito window, no trace of the activity that happened within that window is left on your computer.

Incognito does not hide what you're doing from others

Incognito only affects the data that is kept on your PC.

For example:

  • Your network traffic is unaffected. Your ISP can still see what you're up to.
  • The websites you visit have no idea you're incognito. They can still identify you by various means not limited to cookies, and they can still keep a record of your visit.
  • The search history saved in the online account you might have with the search provider, like Google, is not affected.
  • Any malware on your machine can see what you're up to.
  • It's unlikely your browser performs a "secure" delete — meaning that the files it created might still be recoverable after your session.1

The bottom line is that Incognito (or Private or InPrivate) mode is great at preventing anyone with access to your computer from easily finding your activities there — but it does nothing to protect your online privacy.

It certainly shouldn't be considered as any kind of absolute privacy or security tool.

Related Links & Comments: What Good is Incognito Mode?

So Much Information.... little time.

At least, that's the way it seems, sometimes.

One way I've solved that for myself is to make use of some of the time I spent on the road, or even just working outside: listening to audio-books from Audible.

One of my favorite "listens" in recent months is "The Book Of Joy". It recounts the meeting of Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama in honor of the later's milestone birthday. As the description states, "...they are also known for being among the most infectiously happy people on the planet."

Who couldn't use a little additional happiness these days. Smile

In a completely different direction, I'm currently listening to the first book in Stephen King's The Dark Tower series, in preparation for the movie coming out later this year.

If you're as strapped for time as I am, consider an Audible book, or even a monthly subscription. There are just so many great titles out there, it's a great way to make use of what might otherwise be "down time".


"Hand Picked" Advertisement

Why Microsoft's Response to the Windows Defender Zero Day was Spot-On

A couple of days ago, Google researcher Travis Ormandy made the following statement on Twitter:

Travis Ormandy Tweet

I think @natashenka and I just discovered the worst Windows remote code exec in recent memory. This is crazy bad. Report on the way.

Turns out it wasn't Windows, per se, but Windows Defender (and Microsoft Security Essentials, in prior Windows versions). And "crazy bad" is apt.

It set into motion an example of "the system" working, and working well, to keep you safe.

Continue Reading: Why Microsoft's Response to the Windows Defender Zero Day was Spot-On

What Is DRM?

Looking at a book online it said: "At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied." – What's that about?

DRM, or Digital Rights Management, is software that prevents you from copying digital purchases and giving them to others.

Naturally, it's complicated, and can be used for more fine-tuned control, but put another way, at its core it simply prevents theft of copyrighted material.

Unfortunately, it's rarely bullet-proof, and in doing its job, it's the innocent who pay the highest price.

Continue Reading: What Is DRM?

The Ask Leo! Tip of the Day

A feature exclusively available to Ask Leo! Patrons Bronze level & above.

More Ask Leo!

Become a Patron
Books - Business - Glossary
Facebook - YouTube - More..


I'll be visiting Fairbanks, AK (or, more precisely, Girdwood), this weekend to help out with amateur radio support for Bike MS, Alaska, to benefit The National Multiple Sclerosis Society. If you're in the area, drop me a line!

Leo's Other Projects....

HeroicStories Since 1999, HeroicStories brings diverse, international voices to the world ' reminding us that people are good, that individuals and individual action matter. Stories - new and old - are published twice a week.

Not All News Is Bad - Each day I look for one story in the current news of the day with a positive bent. Just one. And I share it. - My personal blog. Part writing exercise, part ranting platform, it's where I write about anything and everything and nothing at all.

Help Ask Leo! Just forward this message, in its entirety (but without your unsubscribe link below) to your friends. Or, just point them at for their own FREE subscription!

Newsletter contents Copyright © 2017,
Leo A. Notenboom & Puget Sound Software, LLC.
Ask Leo! is a registered trademark ® of Puget Sound Software, LLC

Posted: May 16, 2017 in: 2017
« Previous post:
Next post: »

New Here?

Let me suggest my collection of best and most important articles to get you started.

Of course I strongly recommend you search the site -- there's a ton of information just waiting for you.

Finally, if you just can't find what you're looking for, ask me!

Confident Computing

Confident Computing is the weekly newsletter from Ask Leo!. Each week I give you tools, tips, tricks, answers, and solutions to help you navigate today’s complex world of technology and do so in a way that protects your privacy, your time, and your money, and even help you better connect with the people around you.

The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet – FREE Edition

Subscribe for FREE today and claim your copy of The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet – FREE Edition. Culled from the articles published on Ask Leo! this FREE downloadable PDF will help you identify the most important steps you can take to keep your computer, and yourself, safe as you navigate today’s digital landscape.

My Privacy Pledge

Leo Who?

I'm Leo Notenboom and I've been playing with computers since I took a required programming class in 1976. I spent over 18 years as a software engineer at Microsoft, and after "retiring" in 2001 I started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place to help you find answers and become more confident using this amazing technology at our fingertips. More about Leo.