Three practical reasons to use your browser's private mode

Incognito mode can also help you access your favorite news sites and keep upcoming surprises away from prying eyes.

Modern browsers are chock full of powerful hidden features, but one of the most overlooked features is incognito or private mode. If you've heard of this feature, chances are you know it, rather infamously, as "porn mode."

That's an undeserved reputation, suggesting the only time someone would want a sliver of anonymity online is to satisfy their basest instincts--and nothing could be further from the truth. There are all kinds of reasons to regularly use your browser's incognito mode that don't involve websites with three X's in the title.

Private mode: What it is, what it isn't

Incognito mode can help keep your browsing private from other users, but it can't keep your browsing activities private from your ISP or online snoops. For that level of privacy, you'll need to connect to a virtual private network (VPN).

All incognito mode will do is erase your browsing and search histories while in private mode, as well as dump any tracking cookies you pick-up during your incognito session. If you're unsure how to turn on your browser's added privacy mode you can find instructions online for Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.

Now, let's look at how you can use incognito mode to your benefit.

Outsmarting leaky paywalls

Several websites put the majority of their content behind paywalls, but allow you to view a limited number of articles for free per month before forcing you to pay for a site subscription. These paywalls are designed with many ways around that 10-article limit, however. Sites such as The New York Times will let you continue reading an article for free if you follow a link from social media like Facebook or Twitter even after you hit your limit.

Another option is to just open your browser in incognito mode. This way, no cookies are kept on your PC and every time you visit a leaky paywall site it's like you're a new visitor with a fresh 10-article limit. Clever, clever.

Private accounts, public PC

Thanks to smartphones, tablets, and ultra-portable laptops, it's rare that you'll need to visit an Internet cafe or library to access your online accounts--but every now and then it happens.

Public locations often have PCs that are often poorly maintained and may not erase your browsing history after your session.

To make sure nobody stumbles across the login page for your personal website or any other sensitive account, just use incognito mode on public PCs. It's not a bullet proof form of protection, but combined with telling sites not to store your password and using a dash of common sense, incognito mode becomes an effective form of protection.

No history, please

Porn isn't the only reason you might want to cover your tracks when searching for information.

Perhaps you want to get information about a medical condition, and you'd rather not have the search terms pop up later on the family PC. Or maybe you're shopping for a surprise gift and you don't want anyone to see what you were up to at Amazon or Overstock. Really, the reasons for keeping some portions of your browsing history private are endless. Your browser's private mode keeps your browsing, well, private.

So there you go! A trio of shame-free reasons to use your browser's incognito mode. (Well, make that two shame-free reasons if you feel guilty about not paying for a news subscription.)

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