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How to get YouTube’s incognito mode on iOS right now

Posted July 27, 2018 | How-To | iOS 12 | iOS tips | Mac | privacy | Safari | Top stories | YouTube

Android has, or is soon to get, an incognito mode for the YouTube app, which will stop watched videos from showing up in your YouTube history. Google will still know exactly what you watch, of course. It’s just a way of keeping embarrassing movies out of your watched videos list.

iOS may or may not be getting the same feature, but that doesn’t matter. By using iOS’ (and the Mac’s) built-in tools, you can already watch YouTube videos without them showing up in your YouTube history. It even stops YouTube from tracking your history via cookies.

Safari’s Private Browsing mode

As you might have guessed, this how-to makes use of Safari’s private browsing mode. This is a separate section of Safari that lets you browse without leaving a trace on your own machine.

It’s important to note that this is (mostly) only local. When you are in the private browsing mode, Safari forgets everything you do there. It doesn’t save visited pages to your browser history. It doesn’t save them in your iCloud tabs. Downloads don’t stay in the download history list (although the downloaded files themselves remain). And any searches you make will not show up in the list of recent searches.

And, importantly, sites you visit are not allowed to modify or store cookies while you are in private browsing mode. This means they can’t track your from session to session, or even track you during a single session, using cookies. And because private browsing also stops sites loaded in different tabs from communicating with each other, if you open up two YouTube tabs, it seems like you are two different people.

Do not track — hopefully

Safari also asks sites not to track you, but I doubt that YouTube respects this request:

Websites can’t modify information stored on your device, so services normally available at such sites may work differently until you turn off Private Browsing.

What isn’t private? Your iPhone, iPad or Mac will still be identifiable by your IP address. At home, you can have the same IP address for a long while. (That makes it a great way to track your internet usage.) However, as one IP address is shared among all your devices, you get a slight increase in anonymity.

Your device also sends all kinds of other information — the fonts installed on your computer, the browser plugins you using, your screen resolution and system language, and so on. But in the upcoming iOS 12 and macOS Mojave, Safari serves up simplified versions of these snippets of information, rendering fingerprinting all but useless as a tool to track you. This will happen whether you’re using private or regular browsing.

So, while private browsing isn’t hiding much from the websites you visit, it goes further than YouTube’s own incognito mode. Plus, it stops anyone who uses your machine from discovering your secret 1980s pop video obsession.

How to use private browsing mode in Safari

To enter private browsing on iOS, just tap the tab overview button (the one that looks like a square overlaid onto another square), and then tap Private. You are now in private browsing mode, and will be until you exit. You’ll notice that all of your existing tabs have disappeared. They’re being saved for when your go back to the regular view.

To enter private browsing mode on the Mac, choose File > New Private Window from the menu bar.

Now when you navigate to YouTube, you can watch what you like without your iPhone, iPad or Mac remembering what you did. You’ll also notice that you are signed out of your YouTube account, so you can’t access your saved lists or anything like that. But that’s kind of the point.

YouTube’s incognito mode

Unlike YouTube’s incognito mode, Safari private browsing works anywhere, from other video sites like Vimeo, to airline sites, which make or may not use cookies and tracking to increase prices on flights you keep checking.

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