Can private browsing be traced on an iPhone?

39 seconds*.

*According to a study by M. Cukier from the University of Maryland.

That’s how long it was, on average, between individual hacks—back in 2007.

And it’s only picked up steam over the years.

It’s clear why an increasing number of us are seeking privacy.

But is switching your Safari browser to private mode going to prevent you from being traced?

In short, no.

However, there are ways to become anonymous online.

Interested in learning more?

Let’s dive in.

Can my Safari private browsing be traced? 

Yes, your private browsing can be traced.

Safari’s private mode hides your activity only from people using the same device or account as you—it does nothing to protect your privacy on the web. 

Your internet service provider, network administrator, the websites you visit, and even browser extensions can still track your online activities.

But tracking is not the same as viewing someone’s private history.

If you’re interested in the latter, have a look below.

Can other users view my private-browsing history on an iPhone?

No, your private-browsing history won’t show up on other devices.

When you enable the private browsing feature in Safari, Chrome, or any other mainstream browser on your iPhone, your device won’t store the sites you’ve visited, cookies you’ve accepted, or any data you’ve entered.

This means that if you share your iPhone or Apple account with others—say, family members—they won’t be able to see your online browsing activity.

Similarly, when using a computer at a copy-print store, hotel, or any other public space, activating private browsing will prevent other users from viewing your history, including your accounts, passwords, and visited sites.

This is essentially the scenario for which private mode was created—to keep others who use the same device or account from checking someone’s private browsing history.

If you’d like to better understand how private-browsing works, have a look at our in-depth guide.

Who can track my private-browsing history on an iPhone?

There’s quite a number of entities who can track your private browsing session.

You see—

The internet is one big network of devices that constantly talk to each other.

And pretty much anyone and anything you interact with online can use that interaction to track your private browsing.

Take visiting a website, for example. 

Before accessing website data, your iPhone must first send a request to that website. 

However, that request must be transferred by someone—that someone is your internet service provider (ISP).

Both the website administrator and the ISP know that you accessed that website.

But that’s not all—there are more entities that can see your online activities:

  • Internet Service Provider (ISP): This is the company from which you purchase internet access.
    Remember how, in the good old days (or in old movies), people making phone calls would first have to go through a telephone company operator, who would then connect the caller to the receiver?
    That operator, apart from allowing for the connection to happen, could also listen in on conversations between callers.
    The principle is very similar today with ISPs—every action you perform on the internet, private mode or not, passes through their servers.
    And they can not only listen but log, too.
    Something telephone operators generally couldn’t do.
  • Network Administrator: This is the intermediary between you and the ISP; in simple terms, it’s whoever controls the WiFi.
    Routers log all traffic that goes through them, and this data can be accessed through the admin panel.
    This means that whoever has admin privileges can see the IP addresses of the sites you visited.
    Who that administrator is depends on which network you’re connected to.
    For your home network, the administrator is typically the ISP itself, but it can also be anyone who has the credentials to access your WiFi’s admin panel.
    If you connect to your workplace’s WiFi, the administrator is your employer.
    For a hotel WiFi, the administrator is—you guessed it—the hotel.
    And so on.
    Your device must connect through the router before reaching your ISP’s servers, providing the network admin details of your activity in the process.
    If your employer has blocked certain pages from being accessed on the company’s internet, turning on Safari’s private-browsing mode won’t make a difference.
  • Websites: Visiting a website is like entering a doctor’s office—you have to register first.
    Each time you access a website, your ISP facilitates an entry request being sent from your device to that site.
    And just as with doctors’ visits, you can’t enter a website anonymously.
    Before you enter, your computer has to provide identification data—your IP address.
    As a result, both the website and ISP know you were there.
  • Malware: This is a malicious software that can act like a spy, recording every move you make, potentially so it can be used against you.
    Malware doesn’t care if you’re using private browsing or not—it monitors all your activities.
    You might not even realize that your device is infected with malware. Contrary to popular belief, malware doesn’t always freeze your devices or make them open programs uncontrollably.
    Instead, it can quietly collect your data for the developer or distributor to profit from down the line.

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  • Browser Extensions: These are all the plug-ins you add to your browser, such as ad blockers.
    Extensions can potentially track your activity as long as they are active, even in private-browsing sessions.
    Fortunately, extensions are the one tracker you can easily prevent from monitoring you—simply turn off all extensions when browsing privately.
    Usually, activating private browsing will automatically disable extensions, but it’s better to verify this yourself to be sure.
  • Accounts: All your online profiles (social media, bank, blog, forum, etc.).
    When you sign into your Apple account using a private browser, Apple knows it’s you.
    It’s like wearing a mask but telling everyone who you are.
    The same applies to any other website or platform you log in to.
    If you make a post on Facebook while in private mode on Safari, it will still be published under your name.
    If you browse Amazon while logged in, it’ll be able to track your data for targeted advertising.
    And so on.

How safe is private browsing on Safari, then?

The idea that all these entities can track your online activity might be unsettling at first. It can feel like there’s no privacy on the internet.


Most are simply a byproduct of how the internet works and are, in and of themselves, relatively harmless.

Moreover, unless you’re under legal investigation or your device is infected with malware, your activity isn’t observed in real time.

With that in mind, it’s unlikely that employees at your ISP or similar company are observing the websites you visit.

But that doesn’t mean your browsing data isn’t logged and stored.

What does private browsing help with?

All things considered, it’s still worth turning on that private mode on your browser.

While it does not offer extensive privacy in and of itself, it does provide certain advantages.

These benefits include:

  • No targeted ads: marketers target you based on cookies—no cookies, no targeted ads.
  • No stored passwords or logins: your browser won’t remember your autofill information.
  • Auto sign-out: after closing the tab or browser, you’ll be automatically signed out of any accounts you had open.
  • Clean history: the browser won’t store your browsing history.
  • No information stored: whether it’s passwords, searches, or visited websites, nothing will be saved after you close the tab or browser.
  • Blocks tracking scripts: scripts that track your online activities, like those used to deliver targeted ads, are blocked when private browsing on many browsers.
  • Protects from fingerprinting: browser fingerprinting is the process of gathering various data points to create a unique user profile, much like actual fingerprints—private mode can stop that.
  • Allows for multiple simultaneous sessions: some sites prevent you from opening two windows simultaneously, but browsing lets you bypass that.
  • Partially hidden IP: you can’t hide your IP address from the websites you visit without using a VPN or the Tor browser. Some browsers, like Safari, can conceal it from any additional trackers you may not be aware of, though.

In brief, private-browsing mode mainly protects your browsing history and user-entered data from other users of the same iPhone or iCloud account.

It’s a must when using public computers; it’s recommended when using your own device.

Six steps to get a true privacy mode on your iPhone

If your goal is to prevent other users and linked devices from seeing your browser history—Safari’s private mode will be enough.

But if you want to get true private browsing, here’s what you can do:

1. Get a VPN

A VPN allows you to hide your IP address.  

With a VPN, you browse the internet through servers that are distributed globally. 

Think of it as an IP mixer—when you connect to a server, all your internet activity is routed through that server, concealing your IP address. 

But there’s more—

You’re not the only one using that server—thousands of users exchange information through it every second, making it impossible to trace an individual user’s behavior.

Want to learn more about VPNs? Have a look at our VPN 101 guide.

2. Consider switching browsers

Privacy levels vary across browsers, even when using incognito or private-browsing modes. 

Chrome is typically considered the least private option, whereas browsers like Brace, Firefox and DuckDuckGo are more private.

Here you can learn more about privacy-focused web browsers for iOS.

3. Use a privacy focused search engine

Browsers and search engines are not the same thing.

Opting for a secure browser is a step in the right direction, yet using Google for your web searches might be a step backwards.

You do have alternatives to Google, Bing, or Yahoo.

Take Brave Search, for example.

It’s an independent, open-source search engine that puts user privacy at the forefront.

But don’t stop just there—

Have a look at our overview of privacy-focused alternatives to Google and pick a search engine that best suits your needs.

If you’re confused about the differences between browsers from search engines, here’s a quick recap.

In simplest terms, browsers are just apps that allow you, among others, to use search engines. 

And search engines are basically algorithms that scan the web for the most accurate search results. 

Chrome is a browser; Google Search is a search engine.

4. Disable extensions

Browser extensions can act as gateways for tracking software to monitor your activities. 

We’ve done an entire research about the risks of extensions.

In short: things are looking bad.

Luckily for you, when you go private browsing on an iPhone, Safari automatically turns off all extensions. 

And it’s best to keep them that way. 

For better privacy, avoid enabling extensions, even those that appear harmless, such as ad blockers.

5. Avoid logging into accounts

Regardless of your privacy measures, once you sign in to any of your accounts, you give away your anonymity. 

The moment you log in—say, to your social media accounts—the website recognizes you and gains the ability to track your activities.

Even if you enable private-browsing mode.

6. Have your data removed from the internet

You now know how to hide your activity online going forward.

But what about the past? Your information is still out there—getting used by marketers or falling into the hands of scammers.

So, if you aim to achieve maximum anonymity online, there’s an additional step you can take.

Have your data removed from data brokers and people search websites.

You can tackle this task on your own and contact each website that’s processing your data individually.

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Stacking it all up

Here you have it—

The ins and outs of private browsing on an iPhone.

You can’t go completely private on the net.

But it’s still worthwhile to refine your browsing habits.

So, is turning on that private browsing mode worth it?


It does conceal your search history, blocks some trackers, and generally reduces your exposure on the web.

But if privacy is what you’re after, you’ll need to take a few extra steps.

Browse privately!

Private browsing on an iPhone: FAQ

Can my wife see my incognito history?

Other users can’t normally see your browsing history when you’re using incognito or private modes. 

Unless they have administrative rights to your WiFi network.

Your router logs every online activity—both in private- and regular-browsing modes—and this data can be accessed through the administrator panel.

So, if your wife is tech-savvy, she may be able to see your incognito browsing history.

Can my parents see my private browsing?

Other users typically cannot view your browsing history when you use incognito or private-browsing modes.

This changes, though, if someone has the administrative credentials to the WiFi network you’re using.

Routers keep a record of internet activity, regardless of whether it’s done in private or standard browsing mode. These records are available at the router’s admin panel.

So, if your parents know their way around tech, they may be able to see your private-browsing history.

Does private browsing on an iPhone show up on other devices?

No, your browsing history remains invisible to other users and devices in private mode. 

With private browsing turned on, your online activities are not recorded by any of your Apple devices or your iCloud accounts. 

Therefore, if another person uses your iPhone or logs into your Apple account, they won’t be able to see the websites you’ve visited.

Does the iPhone track private browsing?

Activating private browsing in Safari, Chrome, and many other browsers stops your iPhone from saving your online activity. 

This means that neither you nor anyone else can review your browsing history. Nonetheless, it’s important to distinguish this from tracking. 

Despite your use of private mode, your device, your internet service provider, and other entities may still be able to track your online behavior.

Is Apple’s private browsing really private?

Using Apple’s private-browsing mode provides only limited protection

It prevents your device from logging your web history, cookies, and account credentials but doesn’t hide your online activity from internet providers or network administrators. 

Consequently, while it does give some privacy at the device level (for example, from other individuals who might use your device), it doesn’t hide your actions on the internet.

Can someone track my private-browsing history?

Sadly, there are ways to track your private-browsing history. 

The private mode in Safari, Chrome, and other mainstream browsers provides a limited level of security—when activated, they only prevent your device from saving your browser history.

However, your online activities can still be tracked.

That means your internet service provider and the websites you visit know you were there.
But there’s more.

If your device is infected with malicious software, it can also track and record your activity—regardless of whether you’re in incognito mode.

Does iPhone private browsing hide IP?

The Safari browser automatically hides your IP address from known trackers—these apps collect data about you to create, for example, a personalized consumer profile.

However, your device still exchanges your IP address with the websites you visit—it’s a necessary step that you can’t omit, unless you use a reputable VPN or access the Tor network rather than the clearnet.

Can private browsing be tracked on WiFi?

Yes, your network administrator can track much of your online activity—including private browsing.

You can think of WiFi networks as intermediaries between you and the websites you want to visit—they facilitate the transfer of information to and from your device.

However, to do this, they need to know the information. As a result, the administrator of your WiFi network can access your browsing history via the admin panel.

Does iCloud save private browsing?

No, your private browsing information doesn’t sync with iCloud.

In fact, when you enable private mode in the Safari browser, neither your device nor any other synced accounts (such as Apple, iCloud, Google, etc.) will retain your browsing history.

However, if you log in to an account while private browsing, any changes you’ve made to the account will be saved.

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