Clearing Browser History

Category: Privacy

How do I clear the list of sites visited in my web browser? There are some nosy people in my office and I don't want them to be able to see what web sites I have visited.

Cleanup in Aisle 451

Well, that depends on which list you mean. There are several crumb trails that can reveal your web whereabouts to others who might be snooping around your computer. Let's look at some ways to clear your digital tracks with the most popular browsers.

First, there's the address box (up near the top of the screen), where you type in web addresses (URLs) of sites that you want to visit. Those addresses accumulate in the dropdown box that you can access with the little down-arrow on the right of the address box, and some of them will display below the address bar as you enter URLs. This can be very handy or very embarrassing, depending on who's watching over your shoulder and where you've been.

And then there's the browser history, which logs the date, time and web address of every page you have visited. A lot of people are not aware that this history log even exists, so if it's YOU that's spying on your colleague, spouse or child, it's the first place to look. Just press Ctrl H and the History panel will appear on the left side of your browser screen.

Fortunately, it's very easy to clear out the address bar entries and the browser history. With Internet Explorer, click on Tools -> Internet Options and then whack the Clear History button. Firefox users, click on Tools -> Options, click on Privacy, then hit the Clear button next to History. That's it -- tabula rasa, squeaky clean.

Almost...

If you're surrounded by non-techies, that should take care of the snoopers. But you may also want to remove some traces that more determined folks (i.e. "geeks") might find laying around on your hard drive. Namely, there is the browser cache, cookies and saved form data.

Firefox has a handy Clear All button on that Privacy page which will clear everything that your browser may store while you're browsing. If you want to clear these items selectively, there are individual Clear buttons for each.

With Internet Explorer, it's slightly more complicated. Go back to Tools -> Internet Options, and then press the Delete Cookies and Delete Files buttons. Now click on the Content tab, and hit both the Clear Forms and Clear Passwords buttons.

NOTE: I generally do NOT recommend that people delete their cookies. They're useful when it comes to customizing your browsing experience at many sites, and can save you the trouble of re-entering information on web forms. Anti-spyware programs that identify cookies as "threats" are silly and should be avoided. For more info on this see my article Eat Your Cookies.

Feeling Fabulous?

For most users, that should erase all traces of where you've been hanging out in the digital domain. But there are a few more things to consider.

  • If you run a desktop search enhancer such as Google Desktop be aware that it may also catalog your browser history. You can clear items from this history, but it's a tedious process. You have to do a desktop search, click on Remove Items, select the offending items, then press the Removed Checked Results button. Over and over... I did find a program called Mil Shield which can clean your browser history and the Google Desktop history. It offers a free trial and costs US$29 if you want to purchase after the trial ends.

  • Do you have a software-based firewall? If so, it may have some caching built in. Check the firewall options to see if there's a way to clear the history and/or cache. The same goes for various browser plugins, such as Yahoo Toolbar, MSN Toolbar, etc. Poke around in the settings menus to see if there's a "clear my tracks" option.

  • If your computer is at work, your employer may monitor all Internet access. If you're not sure about this, or about your employer's Acceptable Use Policy, check with them. Or just don't go there at work. You know where... ;-)

  • Finally, if you have any adware, spyware or viruses on your system, all bets are off. These things are designed to violate your privacy and it's common for them to report your browsing habits back to Malware HQ. If you need help with scanning your system for spyware, adware and other unwanted pests, see my articles How can I avoid computer viruses? and Spy, Counter-Spy for details on how to protect yourself from those risks.

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    Posted by on 6 Oct 2005


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    Most recent comments on "Clearing Browser History"

    (See all 21 comments for this article.)

    Posted by:

    Arnold
    06 Oct 2005

    Crap Cleaner is very effective and it is free.


    Posted by:

    David dorey
    07 Oct 2005

    Cookies are useful in allowing one to enter limited sites. eg tudogs.com One must subscribe to the newletter in order to enter the web site.
    Cookies do leave a trail. I use Karens cookie viewer
    a free prg that allows me to look at all of the cookies on my computer and delete those I donot wish to keep track of.


    Posted by:

    Olen
    07 Oct 2005

    IE Privacy Keeper is free and removes almost everything. I use it first. Then I use RegScrubXP, which is also free and gets things that IE Privacy Keeper misses. Then I run DustBuster which cleans more redundant files from the registry that the others missed. And it is free. Next I run Traces Viewer which removes any and all traces and "crumbs" the others might have missed. It is also free. And finally, I run the free version of X-Cleaner which looks for spyware, adware, trojans and viruses. It sounds like a lot, but it does not take that long to run each program. And they are free. Just do a google search for the name and it will show you where to download them for free. -Olen


    Posted by:

    walter donavan
    07 Oct 2005

    I like the easier, softer, cheaper way. Run "Delete Temporary Files", "MRU Blaster", and "CCleaner" (Even cleans Opera.) All three are freeware, fast downloads, and can be found in Google. Try them; they are so much easier. You may never poke around in your browsers again. I don't.


    Posted by:

    BaJa
    07 Oct 2005

    The latest Avant browser contains all the tools and options you need to make cleanup a very easy, automatic process without all the extra gyrations.


    Posted by:

    Rick Winter
    07 Oct 2005

    Your advice on clearing browser history does not seem to apply to Macs (OS X anyway). When you pull down from Tools you do not get Options for one thing. The only way I've found to clear your browser history on Firefox on a Mac, is to go to Preferences>Privacy and hit Clear on Saved Form Information. You can check that by clicking on the empty bar on Google and if no pulldown list appears, it's cleared.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Arrgh... why can't the software developers make things work the same (at LEAST from the user interface perspective) on various platforms?


    Posted by:

    Bob
    07 Oct 2005

    Looks like we have a lot of paranoid surfers. All have listed many great ways to hide your tracks while surfing the Web, but here is the easiest way I know. Boot up and surf with a Linux Live CD! What could be easier, nothing to delete and nothing to install, plus no worry of virus or spyware.


    Posted by:

    Heather
    07 Oct 2005

    Wow - Olen, what do you do that you have THAT MUCH to clean off? ;) I agree with BaJa - I love Avant Browser (an IE skin). You go to Tools > Clear Records > Clear All Records (in Avant) it clears away everything. =)


    Posted by:

    MmeMoxie
    09 Oct 2005

    I am surprised that there has been no mention of Webroot's Window Washer. I have been using this program for years and will not be with out it.


    Posted by:

    Colin Edmonds
    24 Oct 2005

    Pretty much covers the issues.
    However, I can't help but stress the point you mention in passing about computers at work. Actually, it is not just computers at work that keep "logs" of a person's trail. If you are accessing the net through someone's service (an ISP, for example), their servers also keep a log of all accesses (although no one has the time and energy to look through them all, the record is still on file and can certainly be called up if requested, for example by legal authorities). Most such service providers archive their files, and so the chances are that somewhere, there is a record of your browsing history.
    This would mean that if you don't want anyone to know where you've been, your only protection is in not going there at all


    Posted by:

    GT68106
    01 Mar 2006

    How about CLEAN CASH V3.2 at [buttuglysoftware.com] It will also clean up [index.dat files] They are tracks hidden on the hard drive. Then there's [index.dat scanner] at [http://www.extramile.ro/index.html] to see if you got em all. Both are free.


    Posted by:

    B. Fofana
    07 Feb 2007

    Hello Bob, Is it possible to prove that a file presented as a download from a website is a forgery when it was not the source?

    EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm not sure what you are asking. Give an example...?


    Posted by:

    B. Fofana
    07 Feb 2007

    >

    Example : suppose someone claims that file F has been downloaded from www.somesite.com. Is it possible to prove or disprove that claim ?

    EDITOR'S NOTE: If the file is on your computer, and someone is claiming that you got it from a certain website, then the only way to prove that would be to match up an entry in the website's server log with the records of your ISP. But chances are you can't get access to either without a court order.


    Posted by:

    KP
    16 Feb 2007

    Help, I am using Safari and want to clear the drop down window on Google. I'm using OS-X and nothing seems to work. Any ideas?

    EDITOR'S NOTE: See http://www.askdavetaylor.com/how_do_i_clear_recent_searches_from_safari_and_google.html


    Posted by:

    Candice
    09 Oct 2007

    This was some of the most helpful information I have ever found on the internet! It's easy, effective, and it's free! Everything else I found was some stupid software that took an hour to download, and when it's finished you can't use it utill you pay. Anyways, Thanks!


    Posted by:

    Jorge
    07 Jan 2008

    Two connections:

    1)Main location, 2)satellite location (different building)a few miles away. Connected to main location through VPN.

    Task bar has two little computers (connections). One is a local one (westell modem in satellite location). I click on the Main Location Connection icon and disconnect. I still have access to internet. Can they see where I've been? I delete all the browser leaves behind (cache, temp files, etc.) When I disconnect the Main Location connection I stop receiving emails (outlook) and don't have access to the Mail Location server files.

    Anyone knows if they can still see where I've been online? And no...no that kind of sites ;)


    Posted by:

    null
    20 Jun 2008

    Does or can the ISP keep track of things you wrote on sites? I understand they track what sites you were on, but can they keep anything you wrote or what you viewed?

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Everything you enter on a web form, or that appears on a web page as text, passes through your ISP servers. Generally when you fill out a web form, it uses a POST (which does not include the data in the URL) so I doubt if that would be stored by the ISP. Also, on secure (https) forms, the data will be encrypted before it leaves your computer, so that's not a concern.


    Posted by:

    islander
    12 Jul 2008

    I've tried the usual method of 'control panel', 'internet options' and clicking on 'clear history' to get the question: "are you sure you want to clear history of visited websites?" When I click 'yes', my history is not cleared. All of the sites are still on the drop-down from the address bar. Any other suggestions? Thank you.


    Posted by:

    Jackson
    01 Jun 2009

    Hey, Is it possible for me to contact my ISP and have them tell me the browsing habits of someone who's on my network? Someone's using the Internet at the office and actually downloaded a porn file... someone's going to have to get fired regardless, and I want to make sure it was the right person. Don't want the innocent guy to take the fall.

    Can I have my ISP tell me the time/sites that were being used? Thanks!

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Maybe, it depends on their policy. They might ask for a court order -- if they even have the data.


    Posted by:

    Josh
    23 Feb 2011

    Hi. I've noticed something about my browsing history on certain websites, particularly facebook. History of names that I've searched for show up in the search engine. For example, if I type the letter t, all the names with t's that I've searched for in the past show up, even if I had deleted the history. I've tried deleting history from firefox and internet options. I've tried removing cookies and autocomplete. Nothing has seemed to work! What would you recommend? Thank you for your time!


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