Can Private Browsing be Traced on an iPhone, iPad or Mac?

You may wonder how exactly Private Browsing works. You may ask yourself if your online activity and habits can be seen by others when Private Browsing is enabled on your device. This article explains what Private Browsing does, and does not, do.

Private Mode offers a little bit of privacy online but it does not offer the full privacy and anonymity that you may be seeking. Many users may want to hide their identity and browsing activity from governments, giant companies, internet services, and advertisers.

How to turn on Private Browsing

In Safari, it is really easy to turn on and off Private Browsing in Safari:

  • Mac: Open Safari, go to File > New Private Window.To turn off Private Browsing close this window and open a regular window.
Private Window
  • iPhone or iPad: Open Safari and tap the new page button and tap Private and then Done. To stop Private Browsing, tap the new page button > Private > Done.
Private Browsing on iPhone or iPad

In Private Browsing, the Safari URL bar will be colored a dark gray.

What is Private Browsing and what does it do?

Private Browsing has become a standard feature, Most browsers, including Safari’s desktop macOS and mobile iOS versions, come with a “private browsing” feature. For example, Chrome calls it incognito browsing, Safari calls it Private Browsing mode. A lot of users use this feature because they want to browse the web securely and privately. It is called Private Browsing because, as soon as you close your private browsing window, your browser will delete your:

  • Browsing history
  • Cookies and website data
  • Forms you filled and AutoFill information
  • Search records
  • Downloads from the downloads list. Please note that if you download or bookmark anything, they will be kept.

Furthermore, if you are using iCloud and Handoff, the websites you visit won’t be shared with your other devices.

Private Mode won’t let you leave any trace on the device you’re using. However, this does not mean your activity cannot be traced. Your activity can be tracked and tied back to you. There are a lot of ways you can be traced while using Private Browsing. When you browse the web, you leave digital footprints behind. Private Browsing doesn’t fully hide your digital tracks online.

Is Private Browsing really private and what does it not do?

Your internet service provider (ISP, such as Comcast, Verizon, etc), cellular provider (T Mobile, AT&T, etc), network administrators (like your employer or school who control the network), websites you visit, or government agencies may be able to trace your online activity even if you are using private mode. Regardless of the browsing mode you’re using, they can monitor your activity and see your digital footprints, for example:

  • What websites you visit.
  • Your location.
  • Your timezone and language.
  • Your device specifications.

For example, if your ISP wants, it can collect data transmitted beyond your iPhone, iPad, or Mac.

Private Browsing does not protect you against malware or viruses. Malicious websites may still harm you. Private Browsing will not hire your IP addresses. So your country, city, or zip code can still be geo-tracked.

Can your Private Browsing be traced?

Does private browsing really offer full privacy? The answer is no. Private browsing does not guarantee security and can easily be traced.

As stated above, if you turn on Private Browsing on your iPhone, the details of your browsing will not be saved on your iPhone. This means that anyone else who uses your iPhone will not know your online activity. For example, if you visit Facebook in Private Browsing Mode on your iPhone or Mac, your device will not have a record of it. However, Facebook would record your on-site activity. And this does not end there. Your Internet provider will keep records of what you do online regardless of using Private Browsing or not.

Private browsing is not really private. Still, a lot of places in the network will have your browsing history. Even though your browser or local device will not remember your activity, your history will still be present.

As stated above, your IP address will remain visible to others who might be trying to track you online. Thus you can be identified.

To sum up, Private Browsing only keeps some aspects of your browsing private.

See also

Dr. Serhat Kurt worked as a Senior Technology Director. He holds a doctoral degree (or doctorate) from the University of Illinois at Urbana / Champaign and a master’s degree from Purdue University. Here is his LinkedIn profile.

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