Your browser’s private or incognito mode can be incredibly useful, but you should always know what it is and isn’t hiding. Here’s exactly what’s happening when you launch a private window.

First up, the data that isn’t kept: searches, visited pages and cookies won’t stick around on the local computer once you’ve closed your private tab. As far as your browser application is concerned, you were never online – well, almost.

Downloads and bookmarks will be saved, so be wary of leaving personal saved files on the desktop or anywhere else that may point to your activity.

Even when you’re in private mode, you’re still broadcasting information between your computer and the WWW. Your ISP isn’t going to suddenly look away because you’ve opened up a private tab. Routers and remote servers are largely unaffected by your browsing mode.

Going incognito is a handy, quick way of viewing a page without being logged into any accounts. However, if you do log into Facebook, Twitter, or anywhere else, then those sites are going to know about it – if you log in with your credentials, private mode won’t cloak you.

Your browser may not know you’ve just spent hours browsing, but the sites themselves will. It’s something to bear in mind if you share accounts and apps with others.

Then there’s local apps running on your machine: keylogging, security tools and other surveillance software won’t care that you’ve gone into private mode. Again, this will leave behind traces of your activity. It’s not a big risk for most, but it’s certainly another one worth considering.

And remember, threats extend to extensions, too. Whilst many honour the rules, studies have found that some extensions don’t play ball. Google Chrome actually disables extensions in incognito mode, but it’s possible that add-ons can be running in the background or in non-incognito windows.

Private mode is a helpful tool in pretty much every major browser – just make sure you’re aware of its limitations before you fire it up.

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