Tech Guide

How to surf the web anonymously and keep Chrome from tracking you

Key Points
  • You can surf the web anonymously following these steps.
  • Use a VPN and incognito mode in your browser, and make sure you don't download or bookmark anything.
  • Also keep in mind that, while these will help you surf mostly anonymously, an already-compromised computer can still be tracked.
Pete Saloutos | Getty

When you surf the web using Chrome or any other browser, your computer saves some of the data on websites you're visiting as part of your browser history. Chrome doesn't need to collect that data, particularly if you want to surf the web more anonymously.

Here's how to browse the web without being tracked.

Use a VPN

First, you'll want to use a VPN. We recently published a guide on how to install and use one. A VPN, or virtual private network, allows you to connect to the internet in a more secure manner and helps to prevent others on the same network from seeing what you're doing.

You can think of it like surfing the web through a steel tube, where your data is much harder to see and collect. It's particularly important to use a VPN when you're surfing from a public Wi-Fi network, such as those in coffee shops or hotels.

I recommend and pay for PIA, better known as "Private Internet Access" but there are plenty of options out there.

Use incognito mode

Chrome, and most other browsers, have a feature built-in called "incognito mode."

This prevents a browser from saving any data from the websites you visit, including cookies, history, or the data you might enter into a web form (such as a credit card number, your address, name, or anything else.) Incognito mode doesn't mean you can't be tracked by people who might be snooping on you. That's why you'll first want to start with step one, setting up a VPN. Also, keep in mind that if you're using a school or employer VPN, instead of your own, administrators can still see what you're doing.

To use incognito mode, follow these steps:

  • Click the three dots on the top right of your browser.
  • Choose "New Incognito window."
  • Begin browsing.
  • To exit incognito mode, close the open window.

Use guest mode

"Guest mode" is the option you want to use if you're on someone else's computer and surfing the web, perhaps if you're using a spare computer at work or the library to print documents.

It allows you to visit websites without them storing cookies or browser history. You can think of this as browsing from a clean slate: you won't have access to any of your bookmarks or data that are saved to your Google account inside Chrome.

To activate guest mode:

  • Tap the small person icon at the very top right of the screen, next to the minimize and close window buttons.
  • Select "Guest."
  • Close this window when you're finished browsing.

Things to think about while browsing privately

Using the web in incognito mode and with a VPN doesn't protect you 100 percent. If you save things to your hard drive (images, videos, documents) that's all still technically available for people to see later.

Also, as Google notes, any bookmarks created in incognito mode will still be available when you exit incognito mode, which means you shouldn't save any sites that you don't want others to know you're visiting.

Your location may still be visible to the websites you visit. A VPN can help you disguise this, since you can manually change the server that you're accessing and make it appear as though you're logging in from another place — like a foreign country. If you don't use a VPN, Google Location Services inside the Chrome browser can get access to Wi-Fi routers nearby, the strength of your Wi-Fi connection, your device IP address (which can help identify you) and more.

You're never invulnerable 

Finally, know that your data is never invulnerable. You can always better protect yourself from intrusion or tracking by following the rules above, but anyone who might have your password — or someone who has already infiltrated your computer through other means — could still potentially see what you're doing. This guide should help you feel better about keeping most eyes out, but it doesn't mean you should use it for illegal activities.

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