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Google Search Techniques

Private browsing

You can search while signed out of your Google account, but they can still save your history by using browser cookies. For a more private search, use "private browsing" or "incognito mode" (Chrome's term for it).

Most browsers have this choice in the "File" menu: New Incognito Window or New Private Window.



In a private window, the appearance will change to indicate you're in a private window (examples below). When you're browsing in this mode, there will be no cookies set, no browser or search history stored, and no information saved that you've entered in forms. This is useful when you are logging on to a private account from a public computer (or the computer of a friend).

Chrome private window


(In Safari private windows, only the search bar turns black).


Firefox private window


It's important to remember, that even in private mode, you are not completely private. Google reminds you of this on their help screens.

According to Google,
"Your activity might still be visible to:

  • Websites you visit, including the ads and resources used on those sites
  • Website you sign in to
  • Your employer, school, or whoever runs the network you’re using
  • Your internet service provider."

This is because websites keep logs of the IP addresses of computers that visit them, and people responsible for your school's or employer's network also keep logs. Your internet service provider also keeps these logs. (In the U.S. ISPs don't need to get your permission to track you in this way. Many other countries have stronger privacy protections).

To keep your activity private from these sources, you'll need to use other tools, such as a VPN or TOR, discussed below.

Other Privacy Tools

Here are a few other tools that you can use to protect your privacy.

  • Duck Duck Go - a search engine that doesn't track you.
  • Firefox Focus (iOS or Android) - a mobile browser that comes with strong privacy settings turned on by default. There is also a German language version: Firefox Klar.
  • VPN: Virtual Private Network - software for encrypting your data on public Wi-Fi. A VPN protects your Internet traffic from surveillance on the public network, but it does not protect your data from people on the private network you’re using. Use CEU's VPN to connect securely to CEU's network when off-campus. Learn more about VPNs and how they can be used in this review article, "The Best VPN Service."
  • TOR (The Onion Router) (Windows) (Mac) - a volunteer-run service that provides both privacy and anonymity online by masking who you are and where you are connecting. It can be slow, so it's not the best service for everyday browsing, but can be useful in certain situations. See "Normal people use TOR," for some good examples of how it can be used (by journalists, activists, whistleblowers, and business people doing competitive intelligence).
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