Incognito vs VPN

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Updated September 12, 2022

Securing your online activity is the modern-day equivalent of finding a good padlock for your barn. To do this, internet users often connect to the best VPNs to get that extra layer of security. However, alternative methods, like Google Chrome’s incognito mode, seem to challenge the need for a VPN. Below, we’ll sort this out by comparing incognito vs a VPN.


  • Incognito mode and VPN are two forms of online privacy, but they do this in different ways.
  • When using an incognito window, all cookies, data, and web history are eliminated as soon as the tab is closed.
  • A virtual private network (VPN) encrypts all forms of sensitive data, ensuring that hackers, government monitors, and internet service providers can’t access or keep your data as it passes through cyberspace.

Additionally, smartphone users looking to beef up protection should read our article on the best VPNs for Android devices.

Insider Tip

VPNs grant users access to websites that are unavailable internationally, like many streaming services and news sites.

A VPN vs Incognito Mode

For the sake of clarity, in this article, “incognito mode” isn’t explicitly referring to Google Chrome’s private browser program; instead, it’s an umbrella term for similar features offered by many browsers. On the other hand, the term VPN represents the broad range of virtual private networks available for general use. To know more about the various virtual network options, check out our article explaining LAN vs VPN.

Incognito mode and VPNs have a similar purpose — online protection — but, in practice, accomplish it differently. Incognito mode is a private browsing mode, meaning that none of your internet activity is stored while using a private tab. In addition, when private mode is activated, your search history, data entries, login info, and all cookies are immediately erased when you close out of the tab.

VPNs are different because the data history and cookies are stored, but the IP address and all online data are filtered through an encryption process via a remote server. This encryption means that anyone or anything else with access to the same Wi-Fi network–from hackers to governments to corporate trackers–can’t identify and make sense of your data. Before connecting your device to a virtual private network, ensure you understand the differences between free VPNs vs paid VPNs.

Data Security

When it comes to bolstering online privacy, VPNs are the way to go. Incognito mode’s private browsing is handy to eliminate your online trail of breadcrumbs, but that’s where its usefulness ends. All your data and IP address remain there for other network users to view and potentially steal, regardless of whether you’re in private browsing mode.


When using a VPN, browsing history is still accessible to websites and applications with access to your cookies.

Online Anonymity

VPNs establish true internet privacy by removing your actual IP address, which is the only way to achieve online anonymity. Incognito mode doesn’t remove your location data, leaving your IP address available at all times. If you want to begin looking at some of the various VPNs out there, we have an article comparing Surfshark vs NordVPN.

Data Elimination

As stated above, one area where incognito mode excels is in data erasure. Incognito mode deletes all your search, login, and browsing history each time you close the incognito window. VPNs store such data, leaving businesses and advertisers open to tracing you via cookies.

STAT: Over 30% of internet users connect to VPNs for additional online privacy. (source)

Incognito vs VPN FAQs

How do you open incognito mode in Google Chrome?

To open a private window, press Ctrl+Shift+N. For a mac, press Command+Shift+N.

Can you use VPN and private browsing mode together?

Many data security experts recommend combining these methods to enhance data privacy and protection.

Are the police able to track a VPN?

Even police officers cannot access encrypted VPN data. However, with the proper legal clearance, they can get IP address information from your internet service provider.
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