Keep your browsing sessions private, in Safari, Chrome, Firefox and Opera

Do you share your Mac with friends or family? Or perhaps you suspect a nosey roommate might be snooping around your Mac when you’re not at home?

If you’re worried about other people seeing your web browser history, then you could delete this history at the end of every browsing session, but this requires you to actually remember to hit that ‘Delete’ button!

Even if you do remember to delete your history at the end of every session, your browser may still offer a glimpse into your browsing habits, via features such as Top Sites, Frequently Visited, and autocomplete suggestions.

If you want to ensure your browsing history remains private, then in this article I’ll show you how to spend time online, without leaving any evidence in your web browsing history.

What is private browsing?

Private browsing is an optional mode, available in most modern web browsers, that lets you browse the web without creating a local record of the websites you visit.

Since these sites aren’t recorded, they don’t show up in your browsing history or in other locations, such as Safari’s ‘Top Sites’ list. Private browsing is particularly handy if you generally like having access to your web browsing history, for example maybe you’re in the habit of only typing part of URLs that you’ve previously visited, and leaving your browser to auto-complete the rest. By dropping into private browsing mode just before visiting the few websites that you’d prefer to keep private, you can maintain your privacy without having to delete your entire web history.

Just be aware that private browsing is almost always confined to a single window, and sometimes it may be restricted to a single tab. If you do open a new window or tab, then look for some kind of visual indication that you’re still in private browsing mode, for example in Safari’s private browsing the Smart Search Field appears as a darker grey.

Private browsing in Safari

When you’re using Apple’s web browser, you can open a private window by selecting ‘File > New Private Window’ from the Safari toolbar, or by using the ‘Shift + Command + N’ keyboard shortcut. Alternatively, Control-click the Safari icon in your Mac’s Dock, and choose ‘New Private Window.’

Any tabs you open within the private browsing window will also be private. However, if you launch another window using the standard ‘File > New Window’ menu, then this window won’t launch in private browsing mode.

Private browsing in Chrome

In Chrome, private browsing mode is known as incognito mode. You can launch private browsing/incognito mode, by selecting ‘File > New Incognito Window’ from the Chrome menu bar. Alternatively, use the ‘Shift + Cmd + N’ keyboard shortcut, or Control-click the Chrome icon in your Dock, and then select ‘New Incognito Window.’

Chrome’s incognito windows and tabs are black, rather than the grey present in the standard browsing mode.

Private browsing in Firefox

To browse privately in Firefox, either:

  • Select ‘File > New Private Window’ from the Firefox menu bar.
  • Use the ‘Shift + Cmd + P’ keyboard shortcut.
  • In the Dock, Control-click the Firefox app icon and choose ‘New Private Window.’

Private browsing in Opera

To cover your tracks in Opera:

  • Select ‘File > New Private Window’ from the toolbar.
  • Control-click the Opera icon in your Dock, and choose ‘New Private Window.’

  • Press ‘Shift + Cmd + N.’

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About the author

Jessica Thornsby

Jessica Thornsby is a technical writer based in Sheffield. She writes about Android, Java, Kotlin and all things Apple. She is the co-author of O'Reilly's "iWork: The Missing Manual," and the author of "Android UI Design," from Packt Publishing.

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