Tutorials

How to enable private browsing on any device: iPhone, Android or Windows

Want to know how to surf the web privately on Windows, Mac, iOS or Android devices? Here's our private browsing guide

Let's face it: there's very little we can do privately nowadays and one of the things we have pretty much lost is the right to browsing the internet anonymously. Whatever we search for is tracked on browsers, the route we take through the internet, flicking between websites, social media networks, applications on our phones, is tracked by our ISP and website owners.

When you opt-in for browsing history to be synced with your laptop, desktop, tablet and mobile, you're making it easier to switch between devices, but you're also opening up device tracking, so your every step is recorded.

Although it feels as though we're constantly under surveillance, it's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, being tracked online means we can be targeted with relevant advertising and our problems can be solved with recommended content, for example.

But if you are concerned about the amount of data being shared with third parties, you can prevent your browser logging this activity.

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The easiest way to stop your activities being tracked is by using private browsing on your device, whether you're using a mobile, laptop, desktop, tablet or any other connected device with a browser installed. Using a private browser keeps your browsing history and data hidden from view and when you close the window, what you've been searching Google or viewing is deleted.

Based on what operating system (OS) your device uses, you can activate privacy capabilities through the default web browsers, whether that's Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge or Apple's Safari.

Not sure how to do it? Here's how to enable private browsing on any device.

Windows tablets, laptops and desktops

All Windows devices use Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) or the much newer Edge (depending on the age of your device) as the default browser. On IE and Edge, private browsing mode comes in the form of InPrivate browsing. To access this, select the More icon, which is displayed as three small dots in the top right of the window, and then select New InPrivate window.

By enabling this feature, your search history isn't saved nor are temporary internet files such as cookies, browsing history, or form data. However, downloaded files and bookmarks stick around even after you close the InPrivate window.

It's worth noting that Microsoft's browsers also disable any third-party toolbars you might have installed when you start an InPrivate session.

Android smartphones, tablets and Chromebooks

The Android OS uses Google Chrome as its default web browser. To enable a private browsing session on devices using this OS, you need to know that Google Chrome calls its private browsing mode Incognito Mode.

This can be accessed by simply selecting "New Incognito Window" from the top right menu when in the Android Chrome app. You'll be able to tell you're using it by the "secret agent" icon by the change in the colour of the app's top bar to dark grey.

In Incognito Mode, Chrome won't keep track of the pages you visit, the data you enter into forms, or any searches you submit. However, it's worth noting that Incognito mode only prevents Chrome from saving your site visit activity. It won't stop other sources from seeing what sites you've visited, including your internet service provider; your employer, if you're using a work computer; and the websites you visit themselves.

iOS (iPhone, iPod, iPad and iPad Pro)

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To enable Private Browsing in Apple's Safari app for iOS devices, simply open the app, select the tab icon on the bottom right of the screen and tap the Private option that pops up on the bottom left. You'll know you're in private browsing mode when the app's top and bottom toolbars go black instead of white or grey.

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

Mac OS X: (iMac, Macbook)

Entering private browsing mode on Safari for Mac desktop devices is very similar to doing so on the iOS app. Simply go to File > New Private Window. A window that's using Private Browsing has a dark Smart Search field with white text.

Mozilla FireFox

Mozilla Firefox isn't the default browser for most Android, iOS or Windows devices but it's sometimes pre-installed and if not, is still available to download for all the aforementioned operating systems. The user will usually have to download the app themselves via their operating system's respective app store if they want to use it. It can also be made the default browser for most devices if they so wish.

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.

To open a Private Window, tap or click the menu button, which is presented as three horizontal bars in the top right corner of the window, and then select New Private Window. Once in Private Browsing mode, the browser window will display a purple mask at the top.

Any device, any browser

While the above browsers are installed on their respective operating systems as default, it's worth noting that most of the browser apps are available to download across the different devices. For example, you can download the Chrome browser on iPhone and Windows devices despite it being made by Google and the default browser on Android devices.

Not entirely private

Although you can go to great lengths to protect your data by enabling private browsing mode, using private browsers across operating systems and devices, it's important to understand that your data can never stay 100% private online. Sure, you can stop advertisers, your ISP and more tracking the websites you visit, but a digital piece of you will still stay online, however careful you may be. The reason for this is that whenever you register for an account on a service, buy something online or signup up to a newsletter, your data will be stored somewhere.

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And if this data falls into the wrong hands (for example, if a service you use is hacked), that data can be distributed across the web and sold to malicious parties that are able to steal your identity. Unfortunately, the only way to stay completely hidden and safe from data being shared across the internet is a total internet blackout - avoiding any connected devices at all, disabling your Wi-Fi and data on your mobile, computer, tablet and any other devices that use the internet to transmit data.

Aside from hacking, your information is still shared with other services, even if you don't want them to be and browse privately whenever you head online. Routers, firewalls, and proxy servers could be keeping tabs on your browsing activities and that's one thing private browsing cannot protect you against.

It's a very modern problem, and one that is unlikely to go away any time soon as absolutely everything (even fridges and cars) rely on the internet to operate.

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