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We’ve covered this topic a number of times already — Steve taught us how to securely delete our Internet Explorer history and Bakari went through the basic steps to clear previous Google searches. Since technology and browsers are constantly changing, it’s worth mentioning again.
First up, if you are using Internet Explorer, then all bets are off. You’re using the most vulnerable browser in history, and are potentially leaving your entire computer open to malicious software, let alone just your browser history. There is no excuse — go and download Firefox or Chrome now.
Why should I care?
There’s a variety of ways in which your personal search data is stored in the browser, and your internet history is just one. While someone may not purposefully sit at your PC directly searching through your history files and cookies, they might inadvertently hit on something you’d rather was kept private. Like in the following example, where a relative is using my computer to search for information on the “dodgers”, only to find some questionable suggestions being pulled from my personal search form history as they begin to type.
You might also be shocked to learn that if you have a Google account, your entire Google search history may be recorded. Since I’ve been using Gmail since July 2006, every single search I’ve ever performed is stored in my Google account. Here’s a sneak peek at the first things Google ever recorded me searching for!
To be honest, I couldn’t care less about my personal search history being stored at Google – but I know some of you might be quite terrified at this point, so I’ll show you how to delete all of that, too.
From the Firefox Tools menu, you can easily select the “Clear Recent History” option. Select the time frame, and if you need to delete absolutely everything, I’d suggest ticking the “Site Preferences” option too.
A better option is to use the Private Browsing feature, which will put your browser into a special private mode and simply not save any data or searches. That’s also a single click away from Tools -> Start Private Browsing. We’ve covered a bunch of Firefox Privacy add-ons before, too.
If you only wish to delete a single item from your browsing history, Chrome has a special “Edit Items” option on its history page that you can access from the wrench icon (top right) -> History.
If you’d rather delete everything else too, you can do so from the wrench icon -> Tools -> Clear Browsing Data, which will bring up a dialog as follows.
A far better solution is to browse particular sites using Chrome’s special Incognito mode, accessed by pressing Ctrl+Shift+N (Mac users: Cmd+Shift+N), or through the wrench menu. In this mode, which looks like the screenshot below – none of your personal data is stored, nor any history recorded on the browser side.
Safari’s options are a little more limited than both Firefox and Chrome, in that instead of carefully carving a particular period of time from your browsing history, you simply get the option to “Reset Everything”. It’s ugly, and you’re going to lose every bit of data stored, but if you have to do it then you can get to it from the Safari menu.
Notice that Safari also has a private browsing mode, so if you don’t want to have to delete all your browsing data in future, you should use private browsing instead.
Google Account Data
You can tell if you logged into a Google account by visiting the usual Google.com search page. If your Google sign-in email address is show in the top right, you are signed in. To check out all the data they store on you, click on Settings -> Google Account settings.
At the top of the page, under the Personal Settings column, you’ll see an option for Dashboard – View data store with this account. Click that.
Depending on what services you have ever used, the page you will be presented with will be different. I’ve always experimented with whatever Google has thrown into the wild, so my stored is too long a list to show here. Scroll down to the section labelled “Web History”, then click on the “Remove items or clear Web History” option in the highlighted blue box to the right. At this point, you might also notice the option to Turn Off Google Goggles Search History if you are so inclined.
You will then be presented with your entire search history, which you can browse through if you are curious, or just click “Remove items” from the left sidebar, or “Clear entire Web History” for a more nuclear approach to the matter.
Well, I hope that’s been useful to some of you. Remember that using private browsing features in every browser mentioned is always easier and safer that trying to delete traces after the fact.
Were you shocked to find out how much information Google was actually storing about you? Personally, I keep my searches in there in the hope that my Google search experience will be more personalized, and perhaps help to keep my own personal bit of the internet a little more free from spam. It’s also quite voyeuristically fascinating to go back over my own personal search history!