Virtual private networks are useful for all kinds of reasons—pretending you’re accessing the web from a different country, for instance—but they’re also great options for covering your tracks on the web.
Incognito mode hides what you’ve been doing online from the browser on your local computer, but a VPN hides it from everyone else, and in particular your ISP. If you don’t want the company that provides your broadband or law enforcement agencies to know what you’ve been doing, then a VPN is the way to go.
It’s worth noting that if you do get a VPN installed, you’re trusting its operator to handle your data with respect and privacy in mind. Many VPNs promise a ‘no logs’ policy, in that no records of your browsing are kept on a permanent basis, but you’re really just taking them at their word unless you’re going to run your own tests on their data centers.
We don’t have room for a full VPN buying guide here, but we have made some recommendations in this article. It’s usually best to stick to a paid-for, well-known, and well-established VPN. If a company has bad intentions towards your data and privacy, then starting up a VPN is the perfect way to realize them.
The same caveats apply as with using private or incognito windows: Once you sign into platforms like Twitter and Facebook, they can log any of your activities there, VPN or not.
Clear Browsing Data
It’s easy to retroactively get your browser to forget your basic browsing history. In Safari on macOS, pick History then Clear History. The subsequent dialog box lets you wipe your browser’s memory for the past hour, the past day, the past two days, or from the beginning of time until now.
In Microsoft Edge, click the three dots up in the top right-hand corner of the browser interface, then choose History and Clear Browsing History. You can wipe away your browsing history and other browsing data for the past hour, the past day, the past week, or the past four weeks, or delete absolutely everything.
When it comes to Firefox, the option you need can be found by clicking on the three lines in the top right-hand corner, then Preferences. Click Privacy & Security, then Clear History; the time ranges are an hour, two hours, four hours, today, or all time. Firefox also offers the option of never keeping a log of your browsing history, irrespective of whether you’re using private mode.