Your browsing history is a record of all the sites you have visited. This history can also include which email addresses you’ve used to log in to your accounts and what information you’ve filled into forms. It also includes cookies, which are used to identify you as you return to these sites or even allow one service to track which sites you’ve been visiting. In some instances, your browsing history can include images or other resources you’ve accessed.
Privacy risks of browser history
Your browsing history is saved on your computer, but it may also be synchronized across your devices and could be accessible from the web depending on your settings. Your browsing history is most at risk of being accessed by others using the same device as you. If the browsing history is saved in the cloud or synced to other devices, anyone with access to these locations also has access to your browsing history.
You could clear your browsing history after each session. For some browsers, another option is to change your settings so your browser doesn’t collect your history at all.
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Stop your browser from recording your browsing history
The most straightforward way to limit your browser’s recording of your activity is to use incognito, or private, mode. Most browsers have the option of letting you open a New Incognito Window (Chrome), New Private Window (Firefox), or Private Browsing Mode (Safari). While cookies are stored during this session, closing the window also deletes your cookies, form data, cache, and logs.
A more permanent option may be to instruct your browser to not record your history at all. Here’s how to do this across various browsers:
Go to Preferences > Privacy & Security. You can first set the level at which you are accepting cookies and other trackers. Under Cookies and Site Data, you can also find the option to clear existing data.
Under History, you can instruct your browser whether or not to remember your browsing history. You can set it to Never remember history or even to always use private browsing mode by default. You can also selectively delete your past history and data.
Take note: If you want to be able to easily search through the sites you have visited, for example to find that comic that made you laugh or the song you enjoyed, then clearing your history is not for you.
Under Customize in the hamburger menu (☰), you can also add the Forget button to your browser bar. Pressing that button will close all tabs and delete all cookies and history from the last five minutes, two hours, or full day.
Unfortunately, there is no easy setting to stop Chrome from recording your browsing history. You can remind yourself to regularly delete it or use an extension to do this for you. On your mobile phone, you might be left with even fewer configuration options.
There are some steps you can take to manage your browser history. In the vertical ellipses menu (⋮), go to Settings > Privacy and Security. Here you can delete your existing data and decide whether you want to accept all cookies, deny third-party cookies, or deny all cookies.
In Chrome you can also easily maintain lists of the sites you want to allow cookies from and the sites you always want to reject cookies from. A useful middle way is to never accept third-party cookies and always clear cookies when closing Chrome by default, but maintain an “allow” list of sites that you trust with responsibly placing cookies or where cookies add a tangible benefit for you. These may include your email provider, favorite social media, sites that are important for your work or school, banking, and so on.
Everything is recorded in your Google Account, and there is no guarantee Google will delete your data when you ask them to.
You can conveniently delete your history by going to History > Clear History, then selecting the time frame. Under Safari > Preferences > Privacy, you can set to block all cookies. On mobile, you’ll find the Block All Cookies button in Settings > Safari > Privacy & Security.
Additionally, Safari also has its own incognito mode, dubbed Private Browsing Mode. Private Browsing Mode means Safari won’t remember the pages you visit, your search history, or AutoFill information once you close the tab.
When in doubt, use the Tor Browser, which does not record your browsing history, and all data is deleted every time you close the browser. While loading sites may appear slow, the Tor Browser by default connects to the free global proxy network called Tor, which allows you to browse more anonymously than any other browser. Learn how to combine VPN and Tor for maximum security.