Private browsing has been around in one form or another since 2005, but it took some time for every browser to get behind it. Now, no matter what browser you use, you can surf the internet without leaving behind a local trail of history, passwords, cookies, and other assorted bits of information.

Private browsing is useful for covering your tracks (or rather, preventing any tracks from being made in the first place), among other thingsIt isn’t infallible, however, and while it will prevent information from being stored on your computer, it won’t prevent your employer, Internet service provider, websites you visit, or the NSA for that matter, from collecting any information you transmit beyond your computer.

Every browser has their own name for private browsing, and while accessing it is accomplished in practically the same way, there can be subtle differences from product to product.

RELATED: Five Worthwhile Uses for Private Browsing Mode (Besides Porn)

Google Chrome: Open Incognito Mode

Google Chrome remains the most used browser on the market, and calls its private browsing mode “Incognito Mode”.

On Windows and Mac

You can spawn an incognito window by clicking the special menu in the top-right corner of the browser window. On Windows, it will be three line and on macOS, it will be three dots. Then, choose “New Incognito Window”. (You can also access this option from the File menu on a Mac.)

Alternatively, press the keyboard shortcut Control+Shift+N on Windows or Command+Shift+N on a Mac.

Incognito mode is unmistakable: just look for the man-in-a-hat icon in the upper left-hand corner. On a Mac, this will be in the upper-right corner. (On some systems running the newest version of Chrome, the window will also be dark grey.)

Keep in mind that even while in Incognito mode, you will still be able to bookmark sites and download files. Your extensions, however, will not work unless you’ve marked them “Allowed in Incognito” on Chrome’s extensions settings page.

To exit incognito mode, simply close the window.

On Android and iOS

If you use Chrome on a mobile device such as an Android phone, iPhone, or iPad, you can tap the three dots in the upper-right corner of the browser window and select “New incognito tab” from the dropdown menu.

The browser will then tell you that you’ve gone incognito with all the requisite warnings as to what that means.

To close out of incognito, tap the box with the number in it (indicating how many tabs you have open) and go back to a non-private tab, or simply close the incognito tab(s).

Mozilla Firefox: Open a Private Browsing Window

Firefox simply calls their mode “Private Browsing”. Like Chrome, it can be accessed from the menu in the upper-right corner. Just click “New Private Window”. (You can also access this option from the File menu on a Mac.)

Alternatively, press the keyboard shortcut Control+Shift+N on Windows or Command+Shift+N on a Mac.

Your private window will have a purple band across the top of the window and an icon in the upper-right corner.

From this window, you can also turn tracking protection on or off. Tracking protection is intended to guard you from being tracked across multiple websites. The problem is, any website can simply ignore this request and track you anyway–so while tracking protection can’t hurt, it may not help either.

To exit private browsing, simply close the window.

Internet Explorer: Open an InPrivate Browsing Window

While its popularity is on the wane, Internet Explorer is still used by quite a few people. To access its private browsing mode, called InPrivate Browsing, click the gear icon in the upper-right corner then Safety > InPrivate Browsing, or simply press Ctrl+Shift+P on your keyboard.

IE will indicate it’s in InPrivate mode from the blue box next to the location bar, which also bears the label “InPrivate”.

When InPrivate is enabled, not only will your browsing history be ignored, but toolbars and extensions will be disabled.

To exit InPrivate browsing, close the window.

Microsoft Edge: Open an InPrivate Browsing Window

Edge is Microsoft’s new browser that comes included with Windows 10. Like IE, it retains the InPrivate nomenclature to designate when a private browsing window is open. To open a new InPrivate window, use the menu from the upper-right corner or press Ctrl+Shift+P on your keyboard.

Once open, the entire browser window will be grey and each tab will say “InPrivate”.

Once you’re done with InPrivate mode, close the tab or window to exit and return to regular browsing mode.

Safari: Open a Private Browsing Window

Safari is the original purveyor of private browsing and as such, will also let you surf in a private window just like the others.

On a Mac

The Private Window option is accessible from the File menu or by pressing Shift+Command+N on your keyboard.

While private browsing is enabled, the location bar will be greyed out and a band along the top of the new tab window will indicate that you’re in private browsing mode.

Extensions in Safari will continue to operate while in private mode, unlike Chrome and Internet Explorer.

To exit this mode, as usual simply close the window.

On iOS

Finally, if you’re using an iPhone or iPad and surfing with Safari, then you can use private mode on it as well. To do so, first tap the new tab icon in the lower-right corner of the new tab screen.

Now, tap “Private” in the lower-left corner.

Once activated, the browser screen will turn grey and will tell you that you’re in private browsing mode.

To exit, simply tap the “Done” button in the lower-right corner of the screen.

As you can see, every browser has more or less the same procedure for going into private browsing mode, and most operate in the same way (with a few occasional differences). Additionally, you can expect to hide similar types of information from prying eyes when using browsing mode.

And remember, private browsing is useful for more than just privacy. It also allows you to log into the same site from different accounts. Say for instance you’re logged into your Facebook account and your friend wants to check their real quickly, simply open a private window and let them at it.

You can also use private browsing to troubleshoot potentially problem extensions. Imagine something isn’t acting right, is it your computer or is it a problem extension? Since private mode typically disables all extensions and toolbars, you can use it to see if the problem is replicated, if it is isn’t, then you have a pretty good idea where to start.

Profile Photo for Matt Klein Matt Klein
Matt Klein has nearly two decades of technical writing experience. He's covered Windows, Android, macOS, Microsoft Office, and everything in between. He's even written a book, The How-To Geek Guide to Windows 8.
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