Safari’s Private Browsing Mode Just Made Your Private Tabs a Whole Lot More Private « iOS & iPhone :: Gadget Hacks

Private Browsing mode is finally living up to its name in Apple’s huge Safari 17 update for iPhone, iPad, and Mac. So whether you search for things you don’t want anybody to know about or want to ensure websites and trackers aren’t eavesdropping on your activity, you’ll want to update your devices pronto.

By default, each tab in Safari’s Private Browsing mode on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS is its own environment, isolated from your other tabs, so websites can’t track your activity from the current tab to another session. You also won’t see any recent private searches suggested when performing new searches in other tabs.

Private tabs do not sync with iCloud, so they won’t show up on your other Apple devices, and they won’t work with Handoff or show downloaded files in Safari’s downloads list. Once you close a Private Browsing tab, Safari forgets the pages you visited, your search history, your AutoFill information, and any new cookies or website data from the session.

But incognito browsing in Safari has even more protection available with the iOS 17, iPadOS 17, and macOS Sonoma software updates, which are still in beta. Here’s everything you get with the new for-you-eyes-only browsing experience:

1. Face ID, Touch ID, or Password Protection

Safari’s Private Browsing mode is now protected behind biometric authentication or your device passcode or password. So whenever you switch to Private Browsing from regular browsing or return to it from another app or window, you’ll need to authenticate yourself using Face ID or Touch ID on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac.

If the biometrics scan doesn’t work or your device is not equipped with biometric protection, you can use your device’s passcode or password instead.

While it’s more useful on iPad and Mac, devices frequently shared between family members or housemates, it can also ensure no one can access your locked incognito tabs on your iPhone whenever someone borrows it or hacks into it.

If Private Browsing is not locked on your device or you want to disable it, you can quickly turn it on or off.

  • On iPhone/iPad: Go to Settings –> Safari –> Privacy & Security, toggle on or off “Require Face ID to Unlock Private Browsing” or “Require Touch ID to Unlock Private Browsing,” and confirm with Face ID, Touch ID, or your passcode. (Shown below.)
  • On Mac: Go to Safari –> Settings –> Privacy, then check or uncheck “Require Touch ID to view locked tabs” or “Require password to view locked tabs.”

2. A Separate Search Engine

You could already change Safari’s search engine on iPhone, iPad, and Mac, but now you can choose separate search engines for regular and private browsing.

For example, you may like Google as your regular search engine, but you may want something like DuckDuckGo, which does not build user profiles and aims to prevent online tracking, as your search engine for Private Browsing mode. This can make Private Browsing even more private.

  • On iPhone/iPad: Go to Settings –> Safari –> Private Search Engine, then choose the one you want. (Shown below.)
  • On Mac: Go to Safari –> Settings –> Search, click the browser next to “Private Browsing search engine,” and choose the one you want.

You can choose between “Use Default Search Engine” or any available search engine, including Google, Yahoo, Bing, DuckDuck Go, and Ecosia. If you have additional languages installed on your device, you may see other options, such as Baidu, Sogou, Yandex, and 360 Search.

3. Protection Against Extensions That Access Page Content

Before, any Safari extensions you had turned on for regular browsing also applied to Private Browsing mode. Now, “extensions that inject scripts or can read information about the pages [you visit]” are disabled by default in Private Browsing mode on iOS 17, iPadOS 17, and macOS Sonoma, according to Apple.

In contrast, content blockers and other extensions that don’t access any content on webpages are allowed in Private Browsing mode by default. This is because they don’t pose any additional privacy or security concerns.

4. Customization Options for Extensions

As you could probably guess from the previous section, Safari 17 now lets you toggle extensions on or off for Private Browsing mode without affecting their status in regular browsing mode. So if you ever want to turn on an extension that Safari automatically disabled for Private Browsing, you can do that. And you can turn off any extension in Private Browsing you don’t want or need when searching incognito.

  • On iPhone/iPad: Go to Settings –> Safari –> Extensions, tap an extension, and toggle the “Private Browsing” switch on or off. (Shown below.)
  • On Mac: Go to Safari –> Settings –> Extensions, click on an extension, and toggle “Private Browsing” on or off.

When an extension is completely disabled, you won’t be able to turn it on for Private Browsing alone. But when enabled on your “Personal” profile, you can turn it on or off for Private Browsing and any of your other profiles.

5. Automatic Tracker Blocking on Websites

Safari 17 has more advanced tracking and fingerprinting protection. In Private Browsing mode, it completely blocks known trackers from loading on pages.

6. Automatic Removal of Tracking IDs in Links

Safari 17 also includes Link Tracking Protection automatically for Private Browsing. Link Tracking Protection disables known tracking parameters appended to URLs that websites use to monitor your movements across the web and build profiles on you. For example, it may turn this:

Into this:

To ensure it’s enabled for Private Browsing, follow the applicable instructions below.

  • On iPhone/iPad: Go to Settings –> Safari –> Advanced –> Advanced Tracking and Fingerprint Protection, then choose either “All Browsing” or “Private Browsing.” (Shown below.)
  • On Mac: Go to Safari –> Settings –> Advanced, click “in Private Browsing” next to “Use advanced tracking and fingerprinting protection,” and change it to “in all browsing” or “in Private Browsing.”

Link Tracking Protection is an improvement in privacy, for sure, but it’s not going to stop all marketing companies as there are ways to bypass parameter removals.

Other New Safari Features Also Work in Private Browsing

While the above features improve privacy when using Private Browsing mode, you can also use many of the other new features Safari has to offer when browsing incognito. Features that work in regular browsing that also work in Private Browsing include speedier Tab Group switching, faster and more relevant search suggestions, the new screen reader, and more.

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Cover photo and screenshots by Justin Meyers/Gadget Hacks


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