Did you know that as you surf the web you leave a trail on your computer of where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing? Many of the websites you visit leave cookies on your computer; the web browser history stores the name and address of every page you visit. There may be other traces too.
If other people have access to your computer you might not want them knowing which websites you’ve visited. Not necessarily because you’ve been doing anything wrong, but perhaps you’re planning a surprise gift or don’t want the world knowing about a medical problem, or you’d just be embarrassed if someone discovered your secret passion for 12th century Chinese poetry.
If you remember, you could go into your web browser’s settings and delete all the cookies, all the history, and anything else that might give away which websites you visited.
This will probably take you several minutes of annoying clicking, and anyway you have to remember to do it.
Modern web browsers such as Firefox and Safari give you the option to select something called ‘Private Browsing’.
For example, look under the Tools menu in Firefox. You’ll see a menu item called Private Browsing. When you choose Private Browsing from the menu Firefox shows a page of information about what it actually means.
In a Private Browsing session, Firefox won’t keep any browser history, search history, download history, web form history, cookies, or temporary internet files. However, files you download and bookmarks you make will be kept.
Firefox does point out that while Private Browsing will stop your computer from keeping records of which webpages you’ve visited you’re still leaving tracks on the Internet itself.
While this computer won’t have a record of your browsing history, your internet service provider or employer can still track the pages you visit.
Private Browsing is not a way to keep your actions secret. But if you simply want to cover your tracks from the casual interest of flatmates or family members Private Browsing is a very handy thing to switch on. Take a look at the menus in your favourite browser to see if it’s available.
Written by Miraz Jordan for, and reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, September 2010. This article has been modified for publication here.