Guest Mode Solves a Privacy Problem

Category: Browsers , Privacy

Have you ever offered a friend or family member to use your Web browser “just for a minute” and returned to find things in total disarray? Perhaps your guest logged you out of your webmail or social media account. Maybe they changed your settings, or installed a sketchy browser addon. Yuck. Or snooped around? Double Yuck. Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to clean up after guests, or worry about them seeing things that are not their business? Guest Mode solves the problem -- read on…

What Is Browser Guest Mode?

When a house guest or family member sits down at your computer, you never know what they might do. In addition to logging you out of your online accounts, and installing unwanted web browser extensions or toolbars, they may also forget to log out of their own accounts, and that can be awkward. Even worse, what if they poke around in your stuff using passwords saved in your browser?

Google Chrome has a “guest mode” similar to the guest account available on Windows PCs. Guest Mode gives a guest his/her own browser window, which has certain restrictions on what the guest can do. When the guest leaves, closing the guest mode window erases all trace of the guest’s presence; your browser window stays untouched.

To start Guest Mode, look for your your profile icon in the upper-right corner of Chrome. (If you're not logged into a Google account, Guest Mode is not available.) Click the profile icon and then click "Guest".

Browser Guest Mode

Optionally, you can use the "Add" option to add a Google account to your browser. The advantage of logging in as guest with a Google account is that the guest’s synced bookmarks, settings and themes will be available in their guest session.

A new window will open with this message: "You’re browsing as a Guest. Pages you view in this window won’t appear in the browser history and they won’t leave other traces, like cookies, on the computer after you close all open Guest windows. Any files you download will be preserved, however."

A Few Caveats

Perhaps, like me, you were wondering how a Guest session differs from going Incognito. The difference is that an Incognito session will have all YOUR bookmarks and browser extensions. A Guest session is like a blank slate -- unless the guest logs in to their Google account. They are similar in that all traces of browser history, cookies, etc. vanish when the session is closed.

One important thing to remember is that when you open a Guest browser window, the original browser window remains open and fully accessible. So security is more or less on the honor system, unless you logout of your Google account and close your browser window after starting the Guest session. It would be much better if all other open Chrome windows were somehow locked or minimized while a Guest session is active.

What About Edge, Firefox, Opera and Safari?

Now that Microsoft Edge is built on Chromium, the same open source code base as Google Chrome, it looks and works much the same as Chrome. So Guest Mode is available in Edge, with a few differences. First, the accounts in Edge are Microsoft accounts, and not Google accounts. Other than that, it’s cosmetic. After clicking the profile icon, you’ll click either “Browse as guest” or “Add profile.” The same caveats regarding browser history, cookies, and passwords apply.

Guest mode for Firefox was available for a time, but when Firefox 67 was released in May 2019, the Guest Session feature was removed "to streamline user experience." Likewise, Opera and Safari lack the Guest Mode feature. But all of these browsers do have some version of Incognito, or Private Browsing Mode.

In Firefox, click the Menu icon (three horizontal bars upper right), then click New Private Window. (Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl+Shift+P)

In Opera, click the menu button on the top left of the browser window. Then click "New private window." (Keyboard shortcut: Ctrl+Shift+N)

In the Safari browser on your Mac, choose File > New Private Window. (Keyboard shortcut: Command+Shift+N)

In summary, guest mode in Chrome or Edge is a safer way to let other people use your device for a moment. During guest sessions, the guest does not have access to your bookmarks, browsing history, stored passwords, and other sensitive data. And if they remember to logout, you won't have access to theirs, either. :-)

Just remember that your guests, while they have access to your keyboard and mouse, also have complete access to your computer. Nothing but honor prevents them from straying outside the confines of the browser window. And nothing but your preferred anti-malware tool prevents them from downloading who-knows-what, whether intentionally or not. Double that caution if your guest is a child that's likely to click on anything. If you have guests who need access to a computer, and you're not sure of their trustworthiness and/or computer savvy, you might want to keep a spare laptop around for those occasions.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below…

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Most recent comments on "Guest Mode Solves a Privacy Problem"

Posted by:

15 Jan 2021

Is any of this necessary if you have Guest Mode on your wi-fi?

I was under the impression you gave the guest that log on info and everything on the main wi-fi was inaccessible to anyone on the guest network.

Posted by:

15 Jan 2021

My quick solution to this article is you need to set up a guest account on your machine.This is easy to do on any Linux distro such as Mint or Ubuntu.All you need is a separate guest name and password apart from your regular user account.With that, you can set options on what that user can do such as prohibiting downloads,no use of the DVD-ROM drive,etc.They can't access your files or social media accounts this way.

Posted by:

15 Jan 2021

Isn't the classic way of dealing with this situation to set up a non-administrator guest account that doesn't have download privileges? Or does Win 10 not allow that? (I've never checked as I'm the only user on my machine, but every other version of Windows I've ever used allows it.) Or is that too simple for the tech-savvy?

Posted by:

15 Jan 2021

A "guest" by definition should never impose to borrow/use a host's computer ...or privates!

Posted by:

16 Jan 2021

To Lucy:
Your Guess WiFi allows guests to your home access to use your WiFi to connect to the Internet. They would, presumabely, connect vie their own device(s) (PC, laptop, phone, tablet), and login to whatever sites they like.

This article is about letting someone use YOUR PC or laptop. You may not want them to use your browser settings, so you set up a Guest in your browser.

My question here, for Bob, is why bother with this at all since a Guest Account login is available in Windows. You swap logins for them, allow them access, and when they're done you log them out, and back to your account. Simple and much more secure - as you mentioned at the top of the article.

Posted by:

Jim Rapp
16 Jan 2021

I can't do this or anything else on Chrome runing the November update to WIN10.

Chrome won't stay open for more than a few seconds.

Posted by:

Tom S.
20 Jan 2021

For those who weren't aware, Vivaldi users also have a guest mode available, accessed in the same manner as Chrome (click the profile icon, and select "Open Guest Window").

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