How much time do you spend online? Statistics show that online content consumption spiked in 2021; it’s not unusual if you surf 10+ hours a day.
The internet serves several purposes, after all. Whether you need to submit work deliverables or look up an old friend, you’ll find the necessary platform online.
However, using the internet also endangers your privacy. Third parties like Wi-Fi admins, Internet service providers (ISPs), webmasters, government agencies, and even hackers can access your data.
That’s why people use VPN services and private browsing to protect their data privacy. But what’s the difference between VPN and incognito browsing? Are they safe and enough?
Our team reviewed official cybersecurity resources about VPN apps and private browsing to give you first-hand insights. By the end of this piece, you’ll know which option suits you.
Please read until the end. We’ll share the most common misconception about choosing between VPN and private browsing. Again, you can only maximize data privacy tools if you understand them.
So, VPN vs. incognito: which should you choose? Let’s find out!
Comparing VPN services vs. private browsing
When it comes to online privacy, most people think of VPN apps and private browsing. They stand as the most accessible, reliable tools geared toward digital privacy.
Although both platforms minimize your digital footprint, they have more differences than you might initially think. In fact, their only similarity is they clear your browsing history.
VPN services and private browsing serve very different functions. Learning when or when not to use them starts with understanding their strengths, weaknesses, and key features.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. VPN companies let their users connect to proxy networks while masking their respective IP addresses.
But what does this mean for you?
Once you connect to a VPN app, your chosen service provider redirects your traffic through a proxy encrypted tunnel. Your online activity becomes untraceable.
Since VPN connections encrypt your network, third parties will lose their capacity to monitor the links you click, files you download, or websites you visit. Simply put, your online identity is hidden.
Even if a cybercriminal hops on your network, your activities will appear as randomly encrypted data. Most crooks don’t have the technology to decrypt them.
Using VPN apps in your daily life
VPN apps let you surf the web anonymously. If you often use public Wi-Fi networks, carry super-sensitive documents on your devices, access geo-restricted content, or facilitate online transactions, consider using your VPN 24/7.
However, the biggest downside to VPN connections is they hamper internet speed. Free networks with millions of users typically lag the worst, although premium VPN apps pride themselves on their fast servers.
Whatever VPN you use, expect some lagging. You might even need to turn off the app before watching HD videos or downloading large files.
Private browsers automatically delete browsing sessions. Let’s say you turned on private browsing an hour ago—every page you visited, downloaded, or clicked won’t be visible on the device you used.
Most browsers have private browsing; they just call it different names. For instance, Google Chrome calls it Incognito mode, while Internet Explorer uses the term inPrivate Browsing.
Moreover, private browsers are available on desktops and mobile phones. We suggest learning to use them on multiple platforms. That way, you can turn them on every time you have to borrow someone else’s device.
Using private browsing in your daily life
Private browsing is super convenient. All web browsers offer this feature for free, plus you can turn it on with just a few clicks.
Also, unlike with VPN apps, private browsing won’t slow down your internet. You can turn it on while watching HD streaming services without compromising your internet or consuming excessive RAM.
However, we don’t advise leaving private browsing on by default. Since it doesn’t record your browsing history, websites will struggle to customize your surfing experience.
Google won’t even be able to curate your search results. You’ll get irrelevant results on frequently searched topics.
We suggest switching to and from private browsing as needed. Again, this feature doesn’t hide your online identity, so permanently leaving it on hurts your experience more than it improves your security.
Why users might prefer private browsing over VPN services
As we mentioned above, free VPN services typically lag if too many users connect to their proxy networks. You can only avoid overload issues by using premium VPN apps.
Many users hope they can just turn on private browsing since it’s free. Unfortunately, private browsing won’t replace VPN services.
It clears your browser cookies, website history, entered login credentials, and cache from your current device. However, third parties can still monitor your activity.
Wi-Fi admins, webmasters, and government employees regularly monitor and record the websites you visit. Remember: private browsing only clears your history on one device per session.
With that said, you might prefer private browsing over VPN apps if you:
- Dislike websites tracking you through cookies. Cookies collect user data like your IP address, browsing history, search engine entries, and device information. Ethical sites use this information to create a more personalized, engaging user experience. Sadly, crooks can also abuse them for illicit activity, black market listings, identity theft, and fraudulent transactions.
- Need to delete a specific session from your browsing history. Instead of manually deleting your website search history, turn on private browsing beforehand. That way, you won’t leave anything on your browser’s history.
- Never visit the dark web. The dark web consists of encrypted, non-indexed content you won’t find on regular search engines. You’ll need a specialized browser and VPN app to access the dark web. However, if you’re uninterested in exploring it, you can already do plenty on the surface and deep webs using just your browser’s private browsing mode.
Although private browsing has its benefits, consider investing in a reliable VPN app if you:
- Must hide your online identity. Your IP address says a lot about you, so you’d do well to hide it from peering eyes if you wish to remain anonymous online.
- Explore the dark web. Although the dark web is legal, many anonymous criminals lurk on this part of the internet. You’d do well to protect your online identity.
- Need to bypass geo-restricted content. VPN apps let you bypass geo-restrictions by giving you proxy networks in different countries. Some service providers might even let you choose a specific territory.
Overall, maximize the features of VPN apps and your browser’s private browsing mode. Know the appropriate situations to use them.
Using private browsing on different browsers
Turn on private browsing from your browser settings. Until you turn it off, your private browser will automatically clear your search history, website cookies, and cache.
The shortcuts are as follows:
|Internet Explorer||Private Browsing||Ctrl + Shift + P|
|Mozilla Firefox||Private Browsing||Ctrl + Shift + P|
|Google Chrome||Incognito Mode||Ctrl + Shift + N|
For macOS device users, replace the Ctrl button with the ⌘ key, or you can just use the browser’s settings menu.
VPN vs. private browsing: which is safer?
Again, we want to emphasize that VPN apps and private browsing modes have their relative merits. Generalizing that one’s better than the other won’t make sense.
First-timers often assume they can’t use both VPN and private browsing services. On the contrary, you can run them simultaneously.
Instead of figuring out which one you should get, we encourage exploring their respective strengths and weaknesses. Test out both platforms yourself.
If you just need to clear your browsing history, use private browsing. You can quickly turn on the feature with just a few clicks, plus most browsers already offer it for free.
On the other hand, consider investing in reliable VPN services if you need a more long-term solution for online privacy and anonymous browsing. A proxy network will effectively hide your online identity.
Protecting your privacy while surfing the internet
VPN and private browsing tools can help you secure your data privacy. Use them to your advantage.
Surfing on private browsing mode lets you automatically clear your website history, cache, and cookies after each session. You can quickly switch to this mode via keyboard shortcuts.
Meanwhile, VPN apps mask your IP address altogether by redirecting your traffic through a proxy network. They provide better security, but you’ll have to pay for quality services.
We also encourage using other cybersecurity tools. To ensure that you leave no trace while using VPN services and private browsing, monitor the surface, deep, and dark webs for all mentions of your personal information.