We willingly give our most personal data so often to advertisers, Big Tech, scammers, and everyone else looking to make a dime off us. Want to take control back? Start with changing a few settings that make it easier for strangers and companies to pinpoint who you are in your Chrome browser.
While you're at it, take a minute and look at your Facebook account settings. Tap or click for three steps to limit or stop targeted ads.
Your browser offers incognito or private mode. It's not a privacy catch-all, but it can make a real difference.
Is incognito mode private? Sort of …
While incognito mode in any browser does provide more privacy than if you're not using it, incognito isn't as private as we were led to believe.
When you surf the web incognito, your browser doesn't save your browsing history, cookies, site data, or information you enter in forms. However, it keeps any downloaded files or bookmarks created during the session.
Your internet service provider can still see your activity, as can a school or employer providing your internet access or computer. Want to stop that? You need a virtual private network, or VPN.
That leads us to the question, "Is incognito mode even worth using?"
Yes, let's look at three situations.
1. Trying to keep gifts a surprise
When you shop online, your browser keeps tabs on what you've perused. Later, you'll see ads pop up on other sites that try to get you to come back to make the purchase - even if you've already bought the item.
You might not be the only person seeing those ads. If the person you're buying the gift for uses your computer, tablet, or smartphone, they will see the same ads. They may see them on their own devices, too, since you share an IP address.
Of course, these ads tip them to what you're up to. That won't happen if you shop in incognito mode.
Stop throwing money down the drain: 5 ways you're ruining your expensive phone, laptop, tablet, and TV.
2. Stopping the algorithm's watchful eye
We all look up things we don't want to follow us around the web for years. Maybe you're worried about an illness, or you need to look up a tutorial on doing a task around the house.
It's annoying to see reminders of those searches everywhere, especially in your YouTube algorithm. You can avoid these suggestions by searching in incognito mode.
You'll notice that I said YouTube. Yes, incognito mode isn't just for your browser. You can search YouTube incognito, too - but only from your phone. Here's how:
• Open the YouTube app.
• Tap your profile picture in the top right of the screen, then tap Turn on incognito.
This feature only works when you're signed in. When browsing incognito, your watch history, searches, and other activity won't be saved to your profile.
Did you know there are hidden apps on your phone? No, I don't mean creepy spyware. These are useful, handy little features you should know.
3. Separating your work and home life
Most of us have two versions of our online selves: Work and personal.
It's a pain when you want to check your personal inbox, but you're logged into your work account - especially if you use the same provider for both. Instead of using different browsers or signing in and out of your accounts, use Incognito mode.
Try signing into your work email using your browser like usual, then open an incognito window for your personal account. Easy.
PRO TIP: You can go even further by setting up separate browser profiles for work and life. You can bookmark, change your settings, or install extensions to make each profile more useful.
Tap or click here to do that in your favorite browser. We cover Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. Sorry, Safari users, but Apple doesn't offer this option.
Have you tried one of those "buy now, pay later" services? Many shoppers love this setup - but now it will show up on your credit report. Speaking of shopping, you can buy a vertical mouse or life-saving headphones. (Yep: one gamer's headphones saved him from a stray bullet.) In this episode, I'll share AirTag news and a cool new Zoom trick that lets you speak with your hands.
Listen to the podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts. Just search for my last name, "Komando."
Learn about all the latest technology on the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 3 ways incognito or private mode can help you with online privacy.