Most traders have tried incognito mode (aka private browsing) on their trading computer at some time. It sounds neat and makes you feel protected. But just how protected are you?
Like so many things on the web, there are some widely held misconceptions about private browsing. It’s a good idea to understand when incognito/private browsing can be useful for your trading business and when it’s not.
Keep reading so you’ll be able to make better decisions about when to go incognito in the future.
What is Incognito Mode or Private Browsing?
The terms “incognito mode” and “private browsing” are different names for the same feature. For example, when you use this feature, Google Chrome opens an Incognito Window. But Firefox and Apple Safari will open a Private Window.
Regardless of what you call it, these features work pretty much the same way in any browser.
When you are roaming the Internet in normal mode, the browser saves your browsing history and session information. It shares this information with websites you visit.
In incognito or private mode, web browsers follow enhanced privacy rules. Specifically, they don’t save your browsing history, cookies, or site data. So there is less information available for a website to extract from the browser.
Also, in incognito mode, the browser won’t save information entered in forms (like your name and email address).
Note that private browsing will not affect files you download and bookmarks you create.
What Incognito/Private Browsing Isn’t
There is a misconception that incognito or private browsing makes you anonymous.
When you use incognito mode on your trading computer, the browser doesn’t save your session data. But your IP address is still visible to websites you visit.
Also, your Internet Service Provider (such as AT&T, Comcast or Charter) or your IT department can use server logs to see your browsing history. In legal cases, this information can be used to establish browsing records.
When to Use Incognito or Private Browsing
Even though incognito or private browsing doesn’t give you total anonymity, it can still be useful in your trading business. Here are three situations when it makes sense to go incognito:
Keep Login Information Private
You can use private browsing to avoid saving a history of the websites you logged in to or visited on your trading laptop or desktop computer.
If your trading computer gets breached or stolen, there will be no record of the specific logins locally. So, for example, no one will be able to see which stocks you were researching.
Alternatively, you could delete your history and cookies at the end of each browsing session. This will achieve the same result. But incognito mode is a fast workaround to avoid saving this information in the first place.
Log into Multiple Accounts
You might have more than one account established on the same website. For example, maybe you manage your own 401K as well as that of a family member, and they’re both Fidelity accounts.
Normally, to manage both accounts, you have to log out of one account before you can log in to the other one.
Instead, you can use incognito mode to log in to multiple accounts. Even though a private window creates cookies just like a regular window, those cookies are restricted to the private session.
So, you can use incognito mode to log into more than one account at the same time.
This can be especially handy when you want to duplicate investment strategies from one account onto the other.
Avoid Targeted Content
Today most websites remember your information and tailor content for you. For example, they might show different ads based on whether you trade stocks or futures.
Most of the time, seeing only tailored content improves your web experience. But sometimes you might benefit from hiding your browsing history so what you are shown is different.
For example, trading sites or travel services might offer lower rates to new visitors. Online stores might offer different product lines to new customers vs returning customers.
You can use incognito mode to check if prices or product lines differ. However, as websites can also use IP addresses to track users, incognito mode isn’t a surefire solution. But it’s worth a try.
How to Open and Use Private Browsing
There are multiple ways to open an incognito or private window.
- If your browser is already open, you’ll generally find the incognito or private browsing option under the browser’s More menu. (Look for the 3-line/hamburger or 3-dot/kebab icon, usually at the far right of the browser’s toolbar.)
- When launching the browser from the start menu or desktop icon or taskbar icon, right click and select the option for new incognito or private window.
- Most browsers also have a keyboard shortcut option. For example, in Chrome/Windows it’s Ctrl+Shift+n. In Firefox/Windows it’s Ctrl+Shift+p.
Once you open a private browsing window, the browser will use a different color scheme. The color scheme is a visual reminder that you are in a private browsing session.
When you are done with private browsing, simply close the window on your trading computer. Then relaunch your browser as usual.
Private/incognito mode is a powerful tool that should be in every trader’s toolbox. If you’ve never used it, or tried it and forgot how, try it out today so it will be fresh in your mind the next time you need it.
Photo by Braydon Anderson on Unsplash.