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Whenever you go online, your web browser saves a copy of every page you visit. This might come as a shock to some and for others, it might cause outright panic. Having a copy of your web browsing history has its advantages and disadvantages. A better understanding of what this feature is, how it works, why you might want to clear your web browsing history and how to do so, are the main objectives of this article. In addition, we’ll provide you with an alternative to clearing your web browser history that might be more appealing.
What is browser history?
“Browser application designers realized that people needed a way of knowing where they’d been and what they’d read or seen online over a long Internet session.”
The feature is in place to make browsing easier and as an added convenience, especially when it comes to sites that you visit often and need to refer to often. What tends to make some users uncomfortable is the knowledge that someone, or anyone, can see where you’ve been and what you’ve done. This potential invasion of privacy causes a lot of users to want to clear or cover-up where they’ve been and what they’ve done online.
What are cookies?
“When you visit a website, the website sends the cookie to your computer. Your computer stores it in a file located inside your web browser.”
Cookies serve good and bad purposes. One example of where cookies help is in online shopping. Without cookies, your online shopping cart would reset to zero every time you returned to look at additional items on the site. They can also allow you to save your password on commonly used sites and allow you to quickly return to that recipe for edible cookies that you might want to bake.
Cookies get a bad rap because they are the main component utilized in tracking your browser history and people consider them something of an invasion of privacy. Cookie files can slow down browser performance when too many of them have built up because your browser searches through all of them each time you open a website. However, keep in mind that banning cookies will make some websites difficult or impossible to browse.
Why would you want to clear your browser history?
A desire to clear your browser history is not necessarily motivated by sneakiness or dishonesty. Though the above can be reasons why some want to remove their internet tracks, there are plenty of other reasons why you might feel led to erase your web-browsing trail. Here are some of the most common reasons:
Not Allow Websites to Track You
Every website you visit places a cookie on your computer. Some website cookies are used to track your history in order to see what you are interested in. You have probably seen pop up ads or ads in the columns of your browser, especially in social media apps, that are related to websites you recently visited or searches you recently executed. This is not by accident. Clearing your browser history or preventing cookies can help alleviate this issue and prevent websites from tracking you and targeting your for advertisement.
You Changed Your Login Credentials
Whenever you change passwords in commonly browsed sites, deleting and creating new cookies, through clearing your browser history, allows you to save the new password you created. In addition, this allows websites to authenticate you utilizing the new login credentials you provided.
Working on A Public or Shared Computer
It might not happen often, but there are times when you need to make use of a public or shared computer in a library, internet café, or borrow someone else’s computer. When you do this, your browsing history is exposed to anyone and everyone who uses the computer after you do. You certainly don’t want them to have a copy of the websites you visited, your login credentials to your bank account, or any other private information.
To Speed Up Your Browser
Cookies get saved as files on your hard drive. Though they are small files, when there are a lot of them, they take up space. In addition, your web browser used up more computing power in order to load web pages that are saved in your browser history as it searches all of your cookies files in order to perform its function properly.
Keeping secrets don’t always have a sinister motive behind them. There are times when you don’t want people to know that you were shopping for certain gifts for their birthday, Christmas or anniversary. In addition, you might have searched something that was rather embarrassing for research, out of curiosity, information, or for less admirable reasons and you don’t want others to be able to follow where you have been.
Clearing Your Browser History
When you consider clearing your browser history, there are really four considerations to keep in mind: clearing history, clearing cache, clearing cookies and clearing search history. Each of these components of your web browsing history has a different effect and you might want to include them or exclude them depending upon your objective. The University of Indiana provides some good details for clearing multiple items in your browsing history.
Clearing your browsing history will be accomplished a little bit differently depending upon which device and which browser you are using. However, you can also clear it through your computer’s operating system. It can be activated using ctrl+shift+del in Windows-based OS or com+shift+del in Apple based OS to bring up a menu of choices to select. You might want to preserve favorite websites and just delete history or you might want to clear other items as well. Dell provides a pretty good rundown on clearing browsing history using this method.
Clearing Cache and Cookies
Clearing cookies, as we mentioned earlier, does help to speed up your computer and your browser because they get rid of the extra space on your hard drive and allow your browser to search through fewer options, but what about cache? In order to make updates to files that compromise your site, developers often push changes or features live. If a file that your browser cache has been changed, then your browser will continue using the old one instead of the updated one. This typically causes a run time error, which can be resolved by clearing your cache files.
Clearing Search History
Deleting your browser history does not delete your search history. Business Insider notes that “deleting your Google web-browser history and Google search history is one way to limit how much data you allow to be collected about you on the internet.” Besides deleting search history in Google, you will also want to delete search history in other search engines as well.
An alternative to clearing your browsing history is to use what is commonly referred to as “going incognito.” This private browsing function disables browsing history, web cache and cookies on your device and erases where you have been when you close the incognito or private browsing window. There are pros and cons to using the private browsing function.
• The websites you viewed will not be saved when you close the private browsing window.
• Preventing the accidental saving of personal information or login credentials.
• You get more pure search results that are not influenced by browsing, history, cookies, and social media.
• Best practice when using a shared computer, online banking or viewing any material you want to keep private.
• Facebook and other social media websites will not be able to track your online activity and use it for advertising purposes.
• Finding something you wanted to return to after you have been browsing in incognito mode won’t be available.
• Be aware that downloads will still be saved to your downloads folder where anyone can see them.
• Browsing incognito does not mean that you are browsing securely. Your activities can still be tracked via browser extensions, DNS cache, or downloaded/installed SSL certificates.
Regardless of your motivation for clearing your browsing history, you can help keep your searches private by either clearing your browser history or by making use of the private browsing feature on your preferred browser. Be aware that clearing your browser history and browsing incognito will not solve all of your privacy and security problems, and might not be your best choice in every situation. Utilizing the information we have provided to you, you should be able to make an informed decision about why and how to clear your browsing history.