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Privacy showdown: Incognito mode vs. using a VPN

Privacy should not be taken for granted. You expose yourself anytime you go online, and somebody could spy on you without your knowledge.

Even your favorite apps can invade your privacy. While they might not be out to steal your banking information, they are gathering data on you. Tap or click here to see which major apps are guilty of sharing your data.

You can protect your privacy in a few ways. Two common methods are using incognito mode and a virtual private network, or VPN. Think these are the same thing? They differ in one crucial way when it comes to privacy. We’ll explain what that is and why it’s so important.

Going incognito

The big four web browsers — Chrome, Edge, Firefox and Safari — all have a private browsing mode built-in. Google calls it “Incognito Mode,” which caught on as a common label for private browsing, but each company uses its own terms. Tap or click here to see the best browsers for privacy.

Private browsing works on a local level. When using the internet on one device, it won’t remember the pages you visited, your login credentials or searches. Nothing is saved, including cookies.

The advantage here becomes apparent when someone else uses the same device. They won’t be able to see what you were doing during a private browsing session. It’s almost like you weren’t there before them.

The drawback becomes apparent when you think about the other side. Those websites you visited know you were there and they were able to track you. Big tech could track you via cookies and share your activity with others. Hackers can also watch what you’re doing and that’s never a good thing. Tap or click here for tips on securing your browser.

You are not anonymous when you use private browsing. Your ISP is still able to track your every move. Incognito mode can help when combined with other tools, but it isn’t so great on its own. If you want to truly protect your privacy, consider a VPN.

Virtual privacy

A VPN works beyond your physical device, encrypting your data and hiding your IP address from your ISP and anyone who may be snooping. Your browsing history is hidden from all interested parties, including your ISP.

When you use a VPN, you access the internet via a private server, and that is what websites, Big Tech and others see. A positive side effect of this is that you can browse information in different regions. For example, you can stream Netflix via a U.K. server, which will open up content not available in the U.S.

Let’s say you’re using the Wi-Fi in a coffee shop. Anybody can access that network and eavesdrop on your activity. A VPN will keep you anonymous.

RELATED: 5 reasons to ditch Gmail for a privacy-focused email service

If you’re concerned about security, and you should be, a VPN is one of the best ways to keep your data private. We recommend our sponsor ExpressVPN. The company has been in business for more than a decade and that experience shows. Here are some reasons to consider ExpressVPN.

  • Access global content – With more than 3,000 servers in 94 countries, ExpressVPN lets you access content from all over the world.
  • Don’t lose speed – A VPN can slow down your connection, but ExpressVPN is built to keep things running fast and smooth, whether you’re simply browsing or using a major social media app or streaming service.
  • Helpful customer support – ExpressVPN customer support is available 24/7 and includes live chat.
  • Won’t save data – ExpressVPN’s servers run on RAM, which is cleared every time they are reset. Your data is not saved on any hard drive.
  • Works on all your devices – ExpressVPN works with Windows, PC, Mac, iPhone, Android and Linux devices. It also offers an app for your router, so any device you connect to your Wi-Fi is protected.

Use the VPN that Kim uses, ExpressVPN. Get an extra 3 months free when you sign up for one year at

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