What’s the Difference Between Incognito Mode and a VPN?

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VPNs and Incognito Mode are two of the most popular tools for online privacy. A VPN makes you harder to track while browsing, while Incognito Mode gives you a fresh browser that doesn’t remember your history—and won’t give you away to websites while browsing on the VPN.

  • What Is Incognito Mode?

Private browsing has a lot of names, including InPrivate in Microsoft Edge and Incognito Mode in Google Chrome. Its purpose is to give your browser temporary amnesia. Whenever you’re in incognito mode, the browser will not store the data of the sites you visited: no addresses, no cookies, none of the data you entered, nothing.

Incognito Mode also gives you a fresh browser state without any cookies. So, if you’re logged in to Facebook in your normal browser window, you can open an Incognito Mode window and Facebook won’t see you as logged in while you browse with that window.

When you browse in Incognito Mode, nothing you do in your browser will be remembered by your browser itself. Web pages you visit won’t appear in your history or pop up in the “recently visited” tab. If you log in to a website, all you have to do is close the window and your browser will forget you ever signed in.

While none of your browsing data is stored on your computer, this doesn’t mean that it’s erased on the other end. Websites you visit can still see your IP address, your internet service provider can still see your activity, and system administrators at your workplace will still know what you were up to when you were supposed to be working. Incognito and other private-browsing modes won’t make you anonymous online, nor will it protect you when torrenting.

  • What Is a VPN?

This is where VPNs come in. When you connect to a VPN, it will connect to the internet using a private server, making it appear as though that server is accessing a website rather than you. In other words, websites you access won’t see your real IP address. They’ll see the VPN’s IP address.

This improves your overall privacy while browsing, with the added bonus that you can spoof your location to anywhere in the world where your VPN has servers. Websites will see you as browsing from the VPN server’s region rather than your own physical location. This allows you to circumvent region restrictions on, for example, Netflix, or use online banking while on holiday. It’s also a great way to bypass online censorship and tracking in repressive countries.

All that makes VPNs popular among a wide range of users, including regular people who like their privacy, human rights activists who live under repressive regimes, and people who use BitTorrent to download the latest movies.

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