Most of the time we go on-line, we do that on a device of our own.
Many sites we visit and many services we use on the internet require us to log into a private account. As a convenience our device – or the profile within which we use that device – will store the username/password combinations needed to get access, and remembers them the next time. This is how you can, for instance, open your Facebook pages or read your web-mail, without having to enter your account information over and over again.
The browser will also keep record of the pages you’ve been visiting (history) and keep content, like images, on disk to prevent them form reloading if you return to pages you’ve loaded before (cache).
But how do you go about when you’re not at home and you need to go on-line but have no device at hand that can do so? If someone is kind enough to lend you his/her web-connected device?
Say you want to do something on Facebook, but that kind person also has a Facebook account. If you browse to the Facebook site you will automatically be logged on to his/hers account. Should you log out of that and log in on yours, the ‘memory’ of the device will switch to your information and your friend will have to reinstate the login data (or work on your behalf).
This way the privacy of both you and your friend is at stake.
The solution for this is incognito or private browsing.
If you’re using the Chrome browser, click the control button the top right corner of the window and then on “New incognito window” (or push the Ctrl+Shift+N key combination).
This will open a new separate window (not a new tab).
The first tab in the window will contain a text telling you that you’ve gone Incognito. This text will disappear as soon as the content of the page, of which you entered the address in the address bar, is loaded. But to remind you of that modus the little picture of a spy will be displayed to the left of the row of tabs. The original – non incognito – window will still be on the taskbar and you can switch back and forth between the two. To end Chrome you’ll have to close both windows.
While incognito, the browser will not use any account information or cookies available to sessions in the ‘normal’ window; you can use the bookmarks though. Browsing to Facebook for instance, will prompt you to log in (or create an account) so you must be able to remember the user/password combination by yourself. The same goes of course for any other service, like web mail.
When you close the incognito window your browse history will be gone too.
If the device you borrowed has Firefox installed, the procedure is slightly different. Here it’s called ‘Private Browsing’.
Click the menu button in the top left corner and select ‘New Private Window’.
Again the newly created window will show you an explanation. A purple menu button with a small image of a mask will remind you of this.
To get acquainted to this way of working, I advise you to practice incognito browsing on your own device a few times, before you need in the field.
In case of Internet Explorer, I can’t give you precise instructions, you will have to look for the solution yourself. In IE it’s called ‘InPrivate Browsing’.
No need to tell you that this is also how you should handle on public terminals in internet cafés, airports and so on. If you leave such a machine where you just closed a non-incognito browser, or even worse didn’t even close the browser at all, any person next in line could steal your identity. So be warned!
Remember that the incognito modus only effects the behavior of the browser on the local device. It is not a safe guard against any of the dangers and pitfalls on the internet nowadays. So stay alert.
If somebody offers you the use of their computer, it is IMHO an act of considerate politeness to go incognito as soon as possible, to not abuse such a kind offer and you’ll be welcome to come around again.