IT for Donuts: three reasons to use private browsing

By: John McGarvey

Date: 5 October 2015

Use private browsing modeIT for Donuts is our regular feature where we explain a tech term or answer a question about business IT. This time, we take a look at private browsing mode.

What is private browsing mode?

Most web browsers - like Internet Explorer or Google Chrome - offer a private browsing mode. This lets you visit websites without:

  • Leaving a record in your web browser's history. (Your history is a big list of all the websites you've visited.)
  • Keeping cookies on your computer or mobile device. (Cookies are small pieces of information used to uniquely identify your computer.)

Private browsing has different names in different web browsers:

  • Google Chrome calls it incognito mode
  • Firefox and Safari call it private browsing
  • Internet Explorer calls it InPrivate browsing

In all these web browsers, you'll find the private browsing option either in the File menu, or from the new tab page. Private browsing mode is generally available on desktop and mobile device browsers.

There are many legitimate reasons to use private browsing. Knowing it's an option can make things a bit easier and quicker in your business. Here are three ways to use it.

1. Sign in to alternative accounts

If you're anything like me, you probably have a bunch of duplicate accounts for certain websites. Some sites - like Google - are good at managing this, letting you switch between accounts via a dropdown menu.

But some aren't so good. For instance, what if you have personal and business Facebook accounts and want to switch between them easily?

Well, when you open up a private browsing window, it's completely separate from your other browser tabs. That window doesn't know that you've already logged in to that website. You can log in again using a different username - without having to log out of your other account.

Just keep in mind that when you close your private browsing windows, your web browser will forget that you were logged in. That means you'll have to enter your username and password again next time.

2. Test your own website

If you're making changes to your website, it's a good idea to check it over from a 'clean' browser. This means using one that doesn't already have your site in its history, cookies and search history.

You could use another computer to do this, but private browsing mode provides a good shortcut, letting you see your website as a new visitor would.

You won't be signed in, you won't see any targeted content - and there won't be any cookies hanging around from previous website visits.

3. Use a shared or public computer

You should always be wary about entering sensitive details (like usernames and passwords) when using a public computer, or one used by someone else. It's easy to install keylogger software that records your log in details.

However, if you're sure you can trust the computer you're using, fire up a private browsing window before you start. That way, you can be sure that subsequent users of that computer won't be able to access any of your accounts or even see what websites you visited.

(To be safe, always quit the browser completely once you've finished using it.)

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