There is a lot more to deleting your browser history than just keeping your computer clean and hitting the "erase history" button in the options menu, even though on a surface level, that is all it is. Your browser history can be a window into sensitive information, a way people you are not fond of can snoop on you, or a way companies can get more information on you. Erasing it is a process, and at the very least, you can better understand what makes it so important to make informed decisions about it in the future.
Fortunately, we are here to help you understand everything you need to know, so please keep reading on.
Why You May Want to Do So
- If you searched for or got brought to this article, you likely already know why you are hoping to delete your browser history. Yet if you are on the fence due to the inconvenience, then consider one of the following reasons on top of what you already have in mind:
- It can allow you to get a fresh look at the internet instead of being brought down pre-determined paths and past sites based on what you looked at before. If you are looking to get outside of your "filter bubble," then deleting your browser history is essential.
- It can also remove old information that automatically gets put into each website, even before you fully load it in some cases. Sometimes this information gets outdated, and it has continued use causes inconvenience or problems.
- Clearing your cache and cookies makes sure that anyone who has your computer cannot immediately log into every site you have an account for automatically, as many cookies are related to login info.
- You will likely need to relog into any accounts you have if you select certain settings, so you may wish to keep this inconvenience in mind and make sure you remember or can reset your passwords.
- While negligible compared to other processes and files taking up space on your hard drive, cleaning out your history and cached files can be part of a regular computer cleanup process.
- While unlikely, doing so could help clear out potential errors from malfunctioning sites that are not reading your cookies or settings correctly.
When You Absolutely Should Do So
There are some situations where you should absolutely delete your browser history and related files no matter what. These include:
- When lending your device to another person, whether or not they are a friend or a loved one.
- When the buildup of old data, cookies, and settings from your browser effectively makes your computer bothersome to use, to the point where you are hesitant about using it.
- When you know your accounts have been compromised and someone else might have access to your data. While the damage could very well already have done, you want to minimize risk (we would like to note that this is just one of many steps you should take in the event you are the victim of a hacker or online scammer.)
What About Cookies?
When we are talking about deleting your browser history and its benefits, in many cases, we are including deleting your file cache and browser cookies too. Those are probably the most impactful and lasting items in your browser history, directly impacting how you might see pages in the future and causing either convenience or inconvenience for yourself.
What are they? While there are lengthier and better explanations of this information, which you should read if you are genuinely interested, effectively, they are small files that allow websites to remember your device and keep track of its activity. You probably know of them through notifications in some way, either through a pop-up or a banner on the site.
If the cookies are meant to track you, you might be reasonably concerned about having them on your computer, and that's perfectly fine. Some cookies can be malicious or annoying, and they should be deleted if possible. However, not all cookies are the same. Many are merely there to give you a better online experience and remove the inconvenience of having to input information 20 times over. You should also know that a cookie doesn't affect how your computer runs; it is merely a piece of information.
Nonetheless, if you are looking to scrub your browser of as many traces of you as possible, then you will want to clear cookies first and foremost, while also handling your list of previously visited pages.
If you're interested in saved files on your browser, you should know that while it might clear up space deleting them, generally, the "cache" is just there to make loading familiar pages easier for your connection and computer. An expert or a dedicated hacker might be able to glean information from them about you, but ultimately, they are rather harmless.
The Main Process
While we'll talk about how to do so on each browser shortly, we would first like to mention the general process. This is not a difficult task, but we would like to be thorough with these things.
1. Find Your History
You will not be able to delete your browser history if you do not know where it is. First, depending on your browser (more on that in a different section), you will want to find the options or history tab in your browser. From here, you can see your history, and how far back it might go. You may also be able to search within it, which is a handy tool if you forget the exact URL or methodology you used in the past to find a useful site.
If you are unable to find your history or think that the location might have changed, then a simple internet search for the name of your browser and "browsing history" will quite likely point you in the right direction.
2. Select What You Want to Delete
You don't need to delete everything at once. Usually, there will be your browser history and perhaps a few other categories (varying by browser). Often, these are cookies, cache files, download history, previously input passwords and login information (sometimes carried as a separate category, sometimes not), and autofill data.
When you go to delete your history, you will be given a selection of which ones to delete. If you want a clean slate or want to be completely safe, pick all of them. Otherwise, pick and choose what is relevant to your goals at the time.
3. Check and Confirm
You will want to double-check what you want to delete and that you are handling everything just how you want to. As mentioned, some parts of your history and some cookies can be useful and completely harmless. We don't want you to delete something you'll regret, even if it will only take you a few minutes to set yourself back up.
On some occasions, usually, when there is a massive backlog to run through, the attempt to delete everything will mostly work, as in some files may still remain for some reason for another. It could just be an after-effect of sorts, but deleting everything again to make sure is a good call and will take only a few seconds.
Generally, you're all set once you finish this final step, but if you use multiple browsers, perhaps with one opening automatically from certain programs, then you're going to want to do the same thing for each one. If all you do with one browser is download the other browser, then you're all set.
The Process for Each Browser
For most browsers, the main process will remain the same, but you will find small differences in both process and results. You can find the details below listed by major browser:
One of the most common browsers, to delete your browser history or review any related information, you can either press CNTL + H while using the browser, or go to the "customize and control Google Chrome" button on the top right of the screen (usually three dots in a vertical line). After doing so, scroll down to history and click on it.
Once you are in a tab with your history, you can click on "clear browsing data" to be brought to a page with all the options and information related to your history you could ever want.
Microsoft Edge (Internet Explorer)
Microsoft's browser, now usually Microsoft Edge (although it may still be Internet Explorer for people who just notice the icon and not the name, or those who refuse to upgrade), has a relatively simple process. You can press CNTL + H to access the tab or do the same by clicking on the three horizontal dots at the top right of the screen and then clicking on "history."
Once you do this, you will see an option to "clear browsing data" after which you will be able to select which categories of items you wish to clear. However, you will need to explore the tab in other ways to manage passwords and autofill data, among some other things.
While Firefox, in general, is known for being one of the more private and secure browsers on the market, that does not mean you shouldn't consider deleting your history from time to time. After all, the information is still there, and it is still accessible to anyone.
To clear your history on Firefox, you will first want to click the "library" button, then click "history." From here, you can select the categories and aspects of your history you would like to clear, then you just need to click on the "clear now" button.
Interestingly, Firefox gives you the option to clear your history or aspects of it automatically or regularly from the privacy and security panel. From the "Firefox will" dropdown menu, you can either select it to never remember your history (effectively setting it to a permanent incognito mode, for comparison), or to delete it or aspects of it regularly, even whenever you close the browser.
The browser generally used by Apple product users; it is relatively easy for Safari users to delete their history. To do so, from the safari app, select "History" then "Clear History." On the resulting pop-up menu, you should be able to go into more detail about what you want to delete and how far back you wish to delete your records, allowing you just to delete one day's activity if you wish to.
While we do not wish to exclude other browsers from these instructions, the above browsers make up more than 90 percent of the browser market share, making the above instructions more than sufficient for most users. Additionally, other browsers are generally more specialist in nature and will be used by people who certainly know how to handle the settings. If there is confusion in the matter, a quick search or a scroll through the various options and menus of the browser is likely all that is required.
What About Mobile Browser Histories?
You might have been operating under the assumption that we have been talking primarily about the browser history and related files on your desktop or laptop browser. While this is true, it can be just as important to consider the history on your smartphone's browser as well, especially given it is more likely to fall into the wrong hands.
A few notes on the topic:
- You may wish to check to see if your mobile and desktop (or laptop) browser histories are linked. This will depend on the browsers used and whether you're logged into the same related account (this is most common with Google Chrome).
- Smartphone browsers will track practically everything a desktop browser would, so stay aware of these factors and files.
- You are probably accessing much more on your phone than you remember. Due to this, we recommend you check your history more often.
You Can Delete Just a Few Items
Are you generally happy with your browser history and just want to delete a few specific items? Perhaps those related to engagement rings and how to throw surprise parties? In these cases, remember that you do not need to throw out everything, and can usually just delete a few history items. You can select and delete a specific recent item in most history tabs, so try that first if that is all you hope to do.
The same principles apply to just certain sets of login information or specific cookies. If you are willing to look or search, you can find exactly what you are looking for and remove it.
Do Not Forget About Incognito or Private Mode
If you know you're going to visit a site and don't want to leave a trace on your computer (perhaps you're researching engagement rings, and you don't want your partner to know), many people don't think about incognito mode until it's too late. It can be an excellent tool for anyone wishing to be a bit more private online, and its proper use can delay the need to delete your history and go through the related inconveniences.
However, there are quite a few misconceptions about private browsing modes, so let's take a look at what they can and cannot do quickly:
What Incognito Mode Can Do
- It can keep your browser from recording what you are doing online and keeping a record of your history.
- Your browser will not cache files, images, or store cookies while you use incognito mode.
- It will make sure no autocomplete or autofill data is saved.
What Incognito Mode Cannot Do
- It will not keep your internet service provider and related parties from knowing what you are doing online. If you wish to remain more private in that regard, you will want to use a Virtual Private Network. Your IP address will still be available no matter which browsing mode you use.
- Some programs and add-ons might be collecting and storing data, even if your browser is not.
- It cannot prevent monitoring software, keylogging programs, and most parental control functions from working.
Deleting your browser history is not just for when you want to scrub the visit to an embarrassing site from your computer. It is also about security, your overall well-being online, and protecting your privacy from anyone who wants to snoop on you. We hope that no matter what you do in the long run, you now have a better handle of the situation and concepts.