July 26, 2023 at 12:25 p.m. PST
- Safari is Apple’s iPhone, iPad, and Mac web browser.
- Apple was the first tech company to introduce private browsing with Safari 2.0 for Mac OS X Tiger in 2005.
- Like most web browsers, Safari features a private browsing mode to stop internal tracking of visited pages, form data, and search history.
- Private Browsing doesn’t guarantee privacy or security, as your Internet Service Provider, employer, and search engines can often track you based on your IP address or other data.
- This guide covers how to turn on private browsing in Safari for iOS 16.5.1, iPadOS 16.5.1, and macOS Ventura 13.4.1.
What is Private Browsing?
Private browsing seems like a way to enhance security and privacy on the web. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security, however. Private browsing only prevents your web browser from tracking online activities. Since the Internet is a network of computers, other systems may record your web browsing habits. Also, private browsing won’t prevent a hacker from compromising your bank’s servers, where they may store your personal information.
When you launch a Safari Private Window, the browser will stop recording your actions. For example, if you visit a site, it will not be recorded in history.
Clearly, the browser tracks history to some extent, as its back button will return you to the last page you visited. But if you check the browser’s history, you will see that all sites viewed with a private browsing window won’t be recorded.
Form data and search history are other items that private browsing won’t track. Apple doesn’t operate a search engine, so evading such surveillance can’t be guaranteed. The most popular search engines track users to some extent, even DuckDuckGo.
As you can see, private browsing is easily misunderstood as a privacy and security tool. At best, it prevents other people who may use your device from seeing your browsing history. We’ll look at how to browse the web privately and securely later in this article.
Private Browsing Doesn’t Ensure Security
Other guides and web pages claim that private browsing helps ensure security, but this is false and irresponsible misinformation. Private browsing only prevents a web browser from recording your actions. It also prevents websites from accessing persistent cookies, but they may add temporary ones.
Your ISP, employer, websites, and search engines can track just about everything you do in a browser’s Private mode. Instead of using authentication cookies, they monitor you by combining data points, such as IP addresses or a combination of hardware and software metadata.
Let’s say you started browsing the web on your Mac using a standard browsing window. Later, you research a sensitive subject in a private browser window. Even though you’re using a private browser window, your IP address remains the same. Thus, based on IP address alone, any search engine can figure out who you are.
Many who use private browsing realize Big Tech still tracks their online behavior. After browsing for a particular subject, they may see this topic appear in advertisements or search suggestions. The coincidences are too close to be random.
If you use a private browser window, assume you’re still being tracked. At best, anyone who uses your computer or device won’t be able to access your browsing history accrued while in private mode. But search engines, websites, and malicious actors between these endpoints can still surveil your activities.
There are far more sophisticated methods for tracking private browsing sessions, but you can be easily tagged with some type of session ID. We’ll show you how to use a completely different IP address tied to another far-off location to provide better privacy and security when needed.
Beyond tracking, private browsing doesn’t protect you from being hacked. Many cyber attacks obtain user information by hacking into backend databases. They don’t care about your computer or browser. They’re interested in a web portal’s connected database.
If you log into your bank’s website using a private window, this doesn’t do anything to mitigate the threat of being hacked. It’s up to the financial institution to ensure its infrastructure is protected and inaccessible to malicious actors.
Why Use Private Browsing?
If private browsing doesn’t ensure privacy or security, some may wonder whether it’s worth using at all. Private browsing can mitigate embarrassment when using a shared computer.
For example, suppose you research an embarrassing medical condition on a household computer. The next user could see this information pop up as autocompleted text in the browser or search engine. Someone checking your browser’s history may discover a sensitive subject you hoped to keep private.
Also, search engines often track your search history for convenience. They usually display a website you visited in a different color than the others. Another user may see this while searching the web on your device.
Using private browsing, incognito mode, or whatever they brand the feature does not ensure privacy beyond the browser. At best, private browsing prevents your history, form data, and searches from being stored and visible on your device.
Don’t be fooled by gullible, amateur tech bloggers who believe every marketing term issued by Big Tech. Apple admits that private browsing does not ensure privacy and security. That’s up to you. You can still be tracked, although since Apple doesn’t operate a search engine, you’re better off with Safari than with competitors’ offerings.
How to Turn on Private Browsing in Safari for iPhone (iOS)
Since the iPhone is Apple’s most popular device, let’s start with how to open a Private Window in Safari for iOS:
- Tap on the Safari icon on your iPhone’s Dock or Home Screen.A new Safari window appears.
- Tap on the Tabs button on the bottom right. (It looks like two overlapping squares.)Safari displays your open tabs.
- Press the Tab Groups control at the bottom. (It should display “Start Page”.)The Tab Groups panel appears.
- Tap on Private on the Tab Groups panel.The Private tab group appears.
- Tap the + button to launch a new Safari Private Browsing window.A new Safari Private Browsing window appears.
That’s it. You can now browse the World Wide Web with slightly more privacy. Others who use your device won’t be able to see your private browsing activity.
How to Turn on Private Browsing in Safari for iPad (iPadOS)
Not surprisingly, the steps to turn on private browsing in Safari for iPad are similar to the iPhone’s process but with slightly different screens:
- Tap on the Safari icon on your iPad’s Dock or Home Screen.A new Safari window appears.
- Tap on the Tabs button on the top right. (It looks like two overlapping squares.)Safari displays your open tabs.
- Press the Tab Groups control at the bottom. (It should display “Start Page”.)The Tab Groups panel appears.
- Tap on Private on the Tab Groups panel.A new Safari Private Window appears.
- Tap “+” to open a new Safari Private Browsing tab.
How to Turn on Private Browsing in Safari for the Macintosh (macOS)
The Macintosh has been around since 1984, and private browsing first debuted on Apple’s iconic computer. Nonetheless, the Mac is one of Apple’s least popular devices today. I think the Mac is one of Apple’s best gadgets, so let’s say we saved the best for last.
Since the Mac is more flexible than the iPhone or iPad, there are a few ways to launch a Safari Private Window:
Launch Safari Private Window on a Mac with Mouse/Trackpad Pointer
- Using your mouse or trackpad, position the pointer on the Safari icon and click on it. The Safari web browser will open with a normal, non-private window.
- Move the pointer to the red dot on the top left of the Safari window and click to close it.The Safari window will disappear with the app still running in the background.
- Move the pointer to the Safari icon on the Dock and right-click or press the trackpad with two fingers. A pop-up menu appears. Click on New Private Window.Safari launches a new window in Private Browsing mode.
Launch Safari Private Window on a Mac with Keyboard Shortcuts
Since the Mac has a keyboard and a rich set of shortcuts accumulated over the years, it’s a much faster way to get things done. The following instructions show how to launch a Safari private window with a few handy keyboard commands to expedite the process.
- Position the pointer over the Dock’s Safari icon and click on it.Safari opens with a non-private window.
- Press Command + W on the keyboard.The standard Safari browser window closes with the app still running in the background.
- Press Command + Shift + N on the keyboard.A new Safari Private Browsing Window appears.
As you can see, launching a private Safari window using keyboard commands is much easier. Learning keyboard shortcuts will boost productivity if you spend a lot of time on a Mac.
Use a VPN For Better Privacy
A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is one of the best tools to protect privacy and enhance security. Unlike a private browsing mode, VPN gives you a new IP address from a completely different location. For example, if you live in Los Angeles, you can connect to a VPN that creates a secure connection to a server in Frankfurt. When you browse the web, servers will assume you’re German. You can even see websites such as Google offering the German version.
Beyond the new, exotic IP address, the connection between your device and the VPN is remarkably secure. A VPN connection uses an encrypted “tunnel” from your device to its servers. Your Internet activity transpires through a random IP address that, in theory, no one can trace back to you.
VPNs aren’t completely safe or secure. Some believe they may share information with Big Tech or government agencies. A few VPNs are owned and operated by Big Tech. They may lure you into being tracked by offering you free VPN service.
VPNs are an extensive subject, but they’re easy to use. Simply download a VPN app for your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. Appledystopia doesn’t recommend a particular VPN, but it’s best to go with a large, mainstream company like NordVPN or ExpressVPN. Some of the smaller, free offerings may be ways to trick you into being tracked.
One of the more popular uses of VPNs is to thwart geo-restrictions on video streaming services or other online portals. The technology works so well that even most Big Tech companies can’t tell the difference between a VPN user and someone residing in a supported nation.
Whether you decide to use a VPN or surf the web as yourself, it’s important to understand that privacy and security are up to you. If in doubt, don’t expose any sensitive information online unless you’re dealing with a legitimate organization.
Private browsing provides minimal protection from online surveillance. A VPN is a step up, but your privacy and security may still be exposed as hackers prefer to go after organizations, not individuals. Even a VPN can’t prevent hackers from stealing your credit card number from an online store’s database.