Legitimate Uses For Private Browsing Mode

Let’s talk about Private Browsing mode.

You know what it is. It has other names that are less savory as it is generally agreed upon that browsing privately is because you don’t want other people to know what you are looking at. It’s commonly called “Porn Mode”. Well, so much for staying classy.

But we’re all adults here. We can get through this. Stop the giggling.

Mozilla has offered some very eye opening metrics on this subject, including the fact that Private Browsing mode is used usually in a window of 10 minutes or less. Here is a chart offered by Mozilla from their metrics blog on the issue.

Source: Blog Of Metrics - Understanding Private Browsing

Care to see some more metrics?

None of it is really that surprising. I found myself in an odd conversation at dinner lately about Chrome’s Incognito Mode (FireFox calls it Private Browsing). We all had a good laugh, but I thought about all the legitimate uses that Private Browsing has. Besides buying gifts for your wife.

Shockingly, it is an essential tool in every day web use when you find out what it can do for you. I even polled some other people on this and found that it has quite a few legitimate uses. Here are some of the ones I use myself along with ones that were recommended to me.

So fire up your favorite browser and let’s make a Private Browsing an honest citizen. I will be using Chrome for these examples.  On a Mac, that’s cmd + shift + n. 

Web App Development

What is one of the single most annoying things about Chrome when you are doing web development? Caching. Chrome will cache certain files, especially if you’re using external templates in JavaScript and loading them in. It persists the cache across window instances as well.  Closing the browser and re-opening does not help.

Uhhhh.  That’s so annoying.

When you refresh in Private Browsing mode, it won’t read from the cache.  Well, that’s partially true.  I’ve seen it read from the cache on the initial load in a new tab but not when the tab is refreshed.  So just watch the network activity to make sure that you have a fresh copy of your files.

Multiple Gmail Accounts

Ralph Whitbeck pointed out to me that it’s super useful for multiple Gmail accounts. Beyond that, it’s super useful for Google accounts in general.  Say you are logged into Gmail in one tab and you want to log in on another tab on a different account.  Once you log yourself out in the second tab, it logs you out in the first as well.  

This actually happens in Chrome Incognito Mode as well.  The trick is to keep one account open in regular browsing mode and the second in Incognito mode.  Now you could log in to your Gmail account and a seperate - perhaps “company” - YouTube account at the same time without stepping on yourself.

And guess where else this works….


Yes - that’s right.  Once called the “The Birthday Website” by Scott Hanselman, the prolific social network for sharing what you are cooking for dinner and giving people completely disingenuous birthday wishes is a great candidate for multiple accounts.  

Scenario: You are a lover scorned.  You need to have your regular account open so you can stay up to date on the lives of a bunch of people you hated in high school, but you also need one for your fake account so you can stalk your ex and find out who they are seeing now.  You need to be able to do both so you can launch your break with reality at just the right time.  

As a point of fact, I have my facebook and my wife’s open right now.  Wait, she’s listed as single?!?  Hold on.  I’ll be right back.


Ok, back.  In other news I’m now single.

Going Down The Rabbit Hole

Menno Van Slooten noticed that it’s also great for going down viral rabbit holes.  You know, someone sends you a video of a large person falling down and you click on all the other videos of large people falling down.  4 hours and 300 memes later your internet history is shot to hell and you cannot find that article you were reading the other day about legitimate uses of private browsing mode.

Since private browsing does not store your history, it won’t polute your main timeline. Don’t just randomly browse the web in a normal window or your history gets pretty useless pretty fast.


From helping you with development to allowing you to unleash your inner psycho on Facebook, it’s great to remember that private browsing mode is good for more than just your sultry late night browsing. Although its really good for that too.

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