Nine Uses for Safari Private Windows

While private browsing windows do not really give you privacy, they are useful for a variety of things. You can use them to log into the same site as multiple users, or to view your own site or accounts as someone who is not logged in at all. You can search and shop without building up a history that can haunt you later on. It is also useful for giving presentations and getting around soft paywalls.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Nine Uses for Safari Private Windows.

Let's talk about Private Windows in Safari. They're also called Private windows in Firefox and they're called Incognito windows in Chrome. When you create a new private window it's like you're creating a separate browser instant from your main one. For instance if I'm logged into a web site, like here I'm logged into Twitter, I'll see a bunch of special controls because I'm logged in as MacMost and I'm viewing my own webpage. If I wanted to see what this looked like to somebody else I have to log out and then go back to this page. Or I can open up a new Private Window. In that Private Window I can go to the same page and, even though I'm logged in here, I'm logged out over here. So that's very useful. You can use that to view your own website, for instance, and see what other people see when they go to your own website.

In addition you can do a second login. So I can login as another account. Another Twitter account here or maybe if you manage a Facebook page for somebody or you know you have multiple users on your website. That kind of thing. You can login as a second user in a Private Window. You can actually do a third and fourth and fifth user too. You can just keep opening Private Windows. They are all separate. They have separate website data. Separate cookies. So it's going to be like your logged in using a completely different browser.

This is also useful if you're about to give a presentation on your laptop. You don't want to give a presentation and then end up going to a website and seeing yourself as being logged in or maybe doing a search and you see suggestions based on previous searches and things like that. It's always useful to open up a second window, a private window, just with Shift Command N, get that open in the background before you give your presentation. That way when you switch to Safari you are then using a Private Window and it doesn't have all the cookies and website data as your regular main window in Safari.

Now when you search say Goggle you're going to get search results that are based on your search term but also your previous search histories especially if you're logged in using say gmail or goggle drive or something. You can see here I'm not logged in but if I was logged in then it would look at my past history and try to figure out, maybe, what to show my in my search results. But if I do a new Private Window then I could search Goggle and it's like I'm not logged in at all. It doesn't have any kind of cookies or anything saved so I'm going to get more of a pure search. So searching for yourself or your website or something like that or even doing research you're going to get a much better result if you do a private browsing window.

This is even more true for something like Amazon. Right. If you're logged into Amazon in the main window you're going to get search results based on your previous buying habits and things like that. Not only that but if you search for something in Amazon you're then going to get future search results altered by the search you just did. So if you want to do a pure search in Amazon you could do it in a private browsing window separate without having to log out of Amazon to do that.

Also, it's the same kind of thing if you're searching, say you're going to do a Goggle search and you're just going to do it for something on a whim. Like you want to see what does it cost to fly to Australia. Or what exactly does like a Toyota Avalon cost or something. You know you do those searches and you get hit with ads for flights and for cars for the foreseeable future. But if you do it in a private browsing window all that stuff in the cookies and those cookies get deleted when you close the private browsing winder and you won't get bothered with those alterations to your searches and your ads.

Another thing that private browsing does is it doesn't enter your history. So here I've got history of all the sites I've been to. If I were to do a search here, like say I was going to search for a job while at my current job, or I was going to try surprise my spouse with a trip to Italy next year and I was going to do a bunch of searches for research for that, it's all going to show up in history and you may not want that. But if you do a private browsing window and you do a search then it's not going to show up. So here I can even click on some of this stuff and it doesn't show up in my history. It's not saving it because I'm in private browsing mode.

The same reason that you want to use private browsing when you're using somebody else's PC. Like a friend's PC or maybe one in a public place. Right. You don't want to use it for anything you log on to anyway. But if you want to kill some time by, you know, just doing some random searches or reading some news stories then the private browsing window is the way to do it. You're not adding your search history and you're not leaving a trail behind you.

Here's a use for private browsing that I have mixed feelings about. Say you're at a site as a soft paywall. A soft paywall means that you can view a certain number of articles per month and then you can't view anymore. You get hit with something like this. You can get around that in many cases by creating a new Private Window, pasting in the same URL to the article you want to read, and it will load up just fine because it sees this as completely unrelated to this window. Right. The cookie that's saved here that's saying you've viewed five articles this month is nowhere to be found here. So it looks like you're a new user and now you can read that article. I have mixed feelings because if a website wants to limit access and put a paywall up then they should be able to. But in a lot of cases for news articles it's sometimes it's the only news source and there's an important alert that affects your safety or security and you want to see what the information is and that's behind the paywall. I'm not sure that is the right thing to do. Other times the information behind the paywall isn't actually unique. For instance a lot of times it's just an Associated Press article that's available for free everywhere else. So if you were to actually pay then you would go and see that, hey wait a minute I could have just read this article for free elsewhere. So, you know, you can kind of make your own judgment and see whether or not you want to use private browsing for that reason.

Comments: 6 Responses to “Nine Uses for Safari Private Windows”

    3 months ago

    As always, great info. I think even with all “Search” options in prefs turned off, there is a privacy “leak” when using Safari or Firefox private windows: the URL/search bar will show my bookmarks. Even with private windows if I type a letter into the URL/search bar, any bookmark starting with that letter shows up in a list. This could be embarrassing in some circumstances if I bookmarked an address I would rather others not see during my presentation.

    3 months ago

    On a related note, I totally got away from Google for searching,, now use DuckDuckGo. Even if I didn’t sign into Google I was amazed how it kept my search history and also shared it with other websites. But the private window is even better suggestion, thanks Gary.

    3 months ago

    I feel so stupid. I’ve been using a Mac since 1 May 1986 and this is the first I’ve heard of this little trick. And apparently it’s been around for about 10 years! Thanks so much for this little video.

    3 months ago

    Bruce: You can turn that off in Safari, Preferences, Search. But it would be great if you could have it off in Private mode and on in other cases.

    3 months ago

    Thanks for that. I rarely remember to do it. I also rarely remember to clear the cache–doesn’t that periodically help get rid of those ads and restore/refresh the browsing results?

    3 months ago

    Carol: No, clearing your cache is something you don’t typically need to do. It will not help with ads or browsing results. Clearing your cache will slow you down a bit as it means your pages will load fresh the next time, requiring more time and bandwidth.

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