Open an incognito browsing window in Chrome and the web is instantly more private. However, it is not perfect and with the wrong settings you can still be tracked. Here’s how to stop it.
Incognito browsing is a good way to protect your identity when browsing the web and to stop people from tracking you. Many people worry about who is spying on their web browsing history and who is following them across websites using third party cookies and other tracking technologies.
Although incognito mode does a lot to keep your online activities private, if Chrome is misconfigured, you could be opening up your online activities to spying and tracking.
Here I take a look at the settings you need to ensure that you are not leaking information to those who want to track you on the internet. Incognito mode needs to be configured correctly and if it is not, you could be tracked. Although this article is about Chrome, all Chrome-based browsers provide similar features and you can do the same in Opera and Microsoft Edge for example.
The following tweaks help, but you should be aware that incognito browsing only goes so far and it does not provide perfect anonymity. However, it does help to reduce spying and tracking of your web activities to a minimum.
Stop extensions running in incognito
Extensions often have access to the websites and pages you view and they can see everything. Some extensions may be in contact with a remote server and they may send browsing data to them. Make sure that any extensions you have installed do not run in incognito mode.
This should not be an issue because the default setting for new extensions is to block them in incognito mode, but if you want to make sure of it, check them now.
Click the three dots in the top right corner of Chrome, let the mouse over over More tools and click Extensions. The extensions installed in Chrome are listed as tiles. On each one is a Details button. Click it.
Check that the switch to the right of Allow in incognito is turned off. Repeat this for each extension that is installed.
Block third party cookies
Cookies are tiny files stored on the computer by a web browser and they have useful functions, like remembering you are logged into a website so that you don’t have to enter your username and password every time. Social media sites use them in this way and you don’t have to log into Twitter, Facebook and other sites every time you visit.
Third party cookies are a special type of cookie and they are often used by advertisers and others to track people across websites. They are rarely essential to the working of a website. Block third party cookies to make incognito browsing mode in Chrome more private.
Cookies may be blocked already, but it is best to check that this is the case and not leave it to chance. Open Chrome settings and select Privacy and security in the sidebar. Click Cookies and other site data on the right. Select Block third-party cookies in incognito.
Use privacy-focused search engines
Some search engines track you and may use what they learn about you in adverts, or even sell on the information to others. When searching the web, use a privacy-focused search engine like DuckDuckGo or Ecosia. In fact, it is a good idea to set the default search engine to a privacy-focused one.
Open Chrome settings and select Search engine in the sidebar and then click the search engine list and select DuckDuckGo or Ecosia. The selected search engine is used when a search term is entered into the address box at the top of the browser. You can still enter a search engine URL like Google or Bing and go there, but it is best not to do this in incognito mode. Search privately instead.
Incognito tabs and windows
When an incognito window is opened, Chrome starts a new session with no cookies, no browsing history, no logged in user. You start with a clean slate. When you begin browsing the web incognito, cookies and history begin to be stored and you build up a profile.
Opening a second incognito tab or window does not start a new session. It continues the incognito session that is already open, with its history and cookies from whatever sites you have visited and logged into.
If you don’t want sites to see your cookies, history and whatever else is stored, close all of the ignognito tabs and windows. The incognito session is then erased. Open a new incognito window to start a new session with a clean slate.
To avoid building up too much information about you, regularly close an incognito window and open a fresh one.
Flush the DNS cache
The Domain Name System (DNS), turns URLs that are easy for people to remember, like wikipedia.org, into IP addresses that computers, phones and other devices can understand.
When you enter the domain name of a website, like twitter.com, into a browser, it uses a DNS server to find the IP address so it can go there. DNS lookups are cached on the computer, even when browsing in incognito mode.
Anyone with a few technical skills can read the cache and see which websites you have been browsing, even after incognito browsing windows have been closed and cookies and history deleted.
Erase the DNS cache after incognito browsing. Enter chrome://net-internals/ into the Chrome address box, select DNS in the sidebar, and then click the Clear host cache button on the right. (Type edge://net-internals/ or opera://net-internals/ into Edge and Opera browsers.)
An alternative way to clear the DNS cache in Windows is to press Windows+R and enter cmd. Then at the command prompt, enter:
Someone would need access to your computer to see the DNS cache, which few people have, so it’s not a big risk. However, if you want to be thorough…
Use a VPN to hide your IP address
Every computer connected to the internet has a unique IP address and websites can use it to identify you and see where in the world you live. You can be tracked and identified using your IP address, so get another one that is not linked to you.
One of the benefits of a VPN app on the computer is that it provides you with a new IP address and it hides your real one. This makes it harder for anyone on the internet to track you or even know it is you using a website or service.