Privacy and Your Browsing History

Web browsers keep a history of all the websites and pages viewed.  This is done for a couple of reasons.  One reason is faster access.  The history is usually stored on the hard drive because it is faster to access the data from there rather than having to go out to the internet to retrieve the data again.   A second reason is convenience.  You may wish to visit a site again but you may not remember the URL address.  If you look at your history you can often find the address.  Information in the history stays there until it expires or until it is manually removed.

Websites also use cookies to record your actions while visiting their sites.  A cookie is simply a text file that stores information.  Think about a webpage that has a shopping cart.  You add an item and continue shopping.  How does it remember what you have added?  It uses a cookie.  Besides shopping cart contents, cookies can also store user preferences, as well as registration or log in credentials.

Looking at someone’s browser history can reveal a lot of information about the person based on the sites they have visited such as personal and work interests, name of banks and other related businesses.  What would looking at your browser history reveal about you?

Why should browser history be cleared?

  • Just as it is easy for you to look through your browser history to find previously-visited websites, so can others if someone uses your computer or you are using a public computer.
  • Clearing the history could make pages load faster.  After a few days, all of the data stored in the history can slow down your browser.
  • Other sites can view browser history to customize advertisements based on the sites visited.

How to clear browser history

Follow the steps below to clear your history:

Internet Explorer

1.  Go to the Tools menu (press the Alt key if you don’t see the Tools menu)

2. Select Internet Options

3.  In the General tab click Delete in the Browsing history section


1.  Go to the Tools menu (press the Alt key if you don’t see the Tools menu)

2.  Select Clear Recent History

Google Chrome

Option 1:

1.  Click the wrench icon

2.  Choose History

3.  Choose Clear All History

Option 2:

1.  Type chrome://settings/clearBrowserData in the address bar

2.  Select the items you want to clear

3.  Click on clear browsing data


1.  Click on the wrench icon

2.  Select Reset Safari.

3.  Select the items you want to reset

4. Click Reset.

Don’t forget about your mobile devices.  Web browsers on mobile phones and tablets also allow browser history and cookies to be cleared.

Next Tuesday’s Topic:  Spear phishing

Previous Post:  Think Before You Click

Christina Bonds

Christina Bonds

Christina Bonds is an Application Developer in the Web Technology department at Elon University.

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