How to enable private browsing on any browser to keep your search history secret

Whether it's Chrome, Firefox, or Microsoft Edge, here’s how to enable private browsing on every major browser

Private browsing refers to an isolated session that's that conceals a users' data and add an extra layer of online security. It's a common feature within most web browsers, where it's often referred to as 'privacy' or 'Incognito' mode.

One of the first examples of private browsing debuted alongside Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger in 2015, with Apple adding a feature to Safari that ensured no information entered into web pages was saved, and that any searches were not added to the pop-up menu in the Google search field.

The feature has since gained popularity, and some form of private browsing is now available with most major browsers, including Chrome, Firefox and Microsoft Edge. 

However, there's often confusion around how private these browsers can be; some come with very limited features, and it is important to know just how protected you are. 

The basic function of these private modes is to prevent your web browser from storing information such as the web pages you visit, the data you enter into forms or any searches you submit. When using public Wi-Fi, for example, this type of data could be visible to a third-parties, which is a security risk. A good private browser conceals this by masking over your activity. 

While VPNs generally offer more protection, good ones are not cheap, whereas private browsing can serve you well for free. There are a number of benefits to it, such as discovering your true Google ranking, or safe shopping. Read on to find out more about going incognito online. 

Google Chrome

Incognito Mode, Chrome's version of private browsing, can be accessed from the settings menu at the top right of the browser, or by pushing Ctrl+Shift+N.

There are a few giveaways when using this brand of private browsing, mainly the outline of a 'secret agent' and a message that you've "gone incognito" when you open a new tab, instead of a blank white screen, or one that shows your most frequently visited pages.

Google Chrome won't save your browsing history, store cookies and site data, or any personal information you use to fill out forms. However, your activity won't be completely hidden. Websites you visit, for instance, can still be tracked by your ISP, or employer. 

Moreover, although Chrome won't remember what files you have downloaded (a record will not be kept) while using private browsing, the files will remain on your hard drive and you will have to manually delete them if you want them to stay hidden.

Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge

Microsoft's Edge and Internet Explorer browsers both use what is dubbed InPrivate browsing to allow you to surf the web with a heightened sense of anonymity. The feature can be accessed in the 'More' tab located in the top right corner of the browser, as with Chrome.

The Edge browser doesn't inform you as explicitly that you're using InPrivate browsing, but there are still a few clear indicators.  

Your browsing data, such as cookies, form data, temporary files, and web history, won't be saved, as with Google Chrome's offering, while any temporary data stored on your device is deleted after all private browsing tabs and windows are closed.

Meanwhile, any third-party toolbars you have installed will be disabled upon opening an InPrivate tab.

Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla's private browsing feature in Firefox is simply called Private Browsing mode' and offers the same privacy tools as Chrome and Edge. However, Firefox offers an additional tool that others browsers don't to make browsing even safer, and that's called Tracking Protection. This is said to prevent companies from tracking your browsing history across multiple sites so they can't record your browsing habits.

There are two ways to open a new Private Window in Firefox.

You can either click the menu button, which is presented as three horizontal bars in the top right corner of the window, and then click New Private Window. Or you can open a link in a new Private Window by right-clicking on any link and choose Open Link in New Private Window from the context menu.

Once in Private Browsing mode, the browser window will have a purple mask at the top.

Safari

To enable Private Browsing in Apple's Safari browser, simply go to File > New Private Window. A window that's using Private Browsing has a dark Smart Search field with white text.

Safari's private browsing mode also removes temporary files when you close the window. Browsing history, form data, and cookies are all wiped by default.

Opera

Opera is a noteworthy browser when it comes to surfing privately on the web because, unlike its rivals, its Private Mode offers a VPN connection to add another layer of secrecy to your browsing activities. It's not a silver bullet in keeping your activities totally private, but it does provide additional protection.

To enable this feature, you can either go through the menu: File > New Private Window. Or, you can use keyboard shortcuts: Ctrl+Shift+N for Windows and +Shift+N for Mac.

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