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What is a Browser History?

Every time you go online from your computer, your browser saves a copy of every page that you visit. That's right: Your computer and Internet browser—whether you use Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, or something else—keep track of where you've been and a history of what pages you've seen.

That's not something they're hiding from you and it's not a conspiracy or invasion of privacy. It's there for your convenience. And unless you're doing something you don't want someone else to see, such as planning a secret birthday, it makes your online experience easier.

On all browsers, "History" is one of the drop-down menu choices across the top of the page, along with other choices such as File, Edit, View, Bookmarks and a few others. The History feature keeps tabs on your Internet browsing for as long as you're online.

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. And over time, they added helpful features to the History feature.

Still, a surprising number of people (more than you'd think) have never explored their browser's history menu or learned about some its special features. And some people are a little leery of having their Internet history on display.

Revising history.

The history feature on our browsers is there to make our online experience simpler and to provide convenience. But it can feel a little strange, knowing that someone can peek into you browser history to see what you've been up to. Most of us wouldn't like that.

Still, it doesn't happen that often. Also, it's only an invasion of your privacy if someone gets access to your computer and actively (or accidentally) searches your history. If you have nothing to hide, then it doesn't matter.

Still, if your privacy is a concern, regardless of what you look at, there are a couple of things you can do, by exploring two options in the browser's History menu.

    Clear Recent History. This allows you to clear the history record and start browsing with a clean slate. If you do decide to clear your history, all your website visits will be wiped from your browser's memory, and after you hit "Clear," it's gone. You'll even get a warning before you hit "Clear Now" button that says, "This action cannot be undone."

    Private Browsing. When you select New Private Window, you're turning off the history feature—that means whatever you look at won't be tracked or won't appear on the list of websites on your history list. Private browsing isn't just about being sneaky online. It offers special benefits:

    • Private browsing is helpful if you use a shared computer, bank online, check medical records, or look at personal or private subject matter you want to keep private.
    • Security experts say that websites won't be able to use "cookies" to track your behavior when you use private browsing.
    • You can prevent Facebook and other social media websites from tracking your online activity while you're on their websites.

When a website places a cookie on your computer, oftentimes part of what they do is track you history to see what you're interested in. That's why it's not a coincidence when you look up an article about France and then see an ad for Air France show up when you visit another website.

Private browsing is not totally private.

Private browsing is not the same as secure browsing. And it's not really completely private. It simply hides your activity from being viewed on your computer through the history feature.

  • If you use private browsing on a computer at work that's connected to a network, the network administrator can always see what sites you've visited (if they want to).
  • If there is spyware on your computer, your online activities could still be tracked.
  • Internet protection software, used by families to filter and monitor Internet content, can track even "private" viewing sessions.
  • Your Internet Service Provider also has access to your online history, but they could search it and report it only if they were directed to through a legal action.

One last thing.

Just remember that if you choose to clear your browser's history or browse privately, you're on your own to find a Web page again. That could haunt you when you're looking for that ONE recipe you saw the day before for chocolate cake that was the most delicious thing you've ever seen. Good lucking finding it out of the other 10,300,000 recipes for chocolate cake.

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