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How to Manage Browsing History and Other Private Data

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All browsers offer ways to manage your private data, which can range from a record of sites which you've viewed to copies of Web pages stored for the purpose of faster load times on subsequent visits. Each browser provides a way to peruse this data, as well as various methods to remove it from your computer or portable device. These browsers also give you the ability to surf the Web without saving any of these sensitive data components, giving the user a truer private experience.

Before learning how to manage private data within your favorite browser, however, it is crucial that you learn what each component actually consists of. You may find that, for your own personal reasons, some private data items are more important than others.

Although each browser may have its own unique name for certain private data components, you will find that the terms are interchangeable (for the most part) and that all browsers store the same items. There are some exceptions, which are covered throughout this article.

Active Logins (Firefox Only)

Whenever you log in to a website that utilizes encryption, that site is deemed by Firefox to be active. When this private data component is cleared, you are automatically logged out of said websites.

Browsing History

Most browsers record and store a list of all websites that you visit. This list may date all the way back to the first time you used the browser, depending on your individual settings. This history can come in very handy when you want to locate a previously visited website, but can also present a privacy issue. Because of this, it is imperative that you know how to manage your browsing history.

Cache (also known as Temporary Internet Files)

All browsers store images, multimedia files, and even full copies of Web pages that you have visited in an effort to reduce load time on your next visit to that page. This is known as the browser cache or, in Internet Explorer's case, temporary Internet files.

Cookies

Cookies are messages passed from a Web server to a browser which are stored on your hard drive in the form of a small text file. They can have many uses, the main one allowing a server to identify a user and present customized pages and/or login information to the user's browser when they revisit a Web page.

Download History

Whenever a file is downloaded via your browser, a record of this transaction is stored. This usually contains the filename, as well as the date and time which it was downloaded. Some browsers also store the URL of the Web page from which the file originated.

Form Data (also known as Form History)

Any time you enter information into a form on a website, your browser may store some of that data. For example, you may have noticed when filling out your name in a form that after typing the first letter or two your entire name becomes populated in the field. This is because the browser has saved your name from entry in a previous form. Although this can be very convenient, it can also become an obvious privacy concern.

InPrivate Filtering Data (Internet Explorer Only)

This data is stored as a result of IE's InPrivate Filtering feature, which detects where websites may be automatically sharing details about your visit. An example of this would be code that could tell a site owner about other sites that you have recently visited.

Saved Passwords

When entering a password on a Web page for something such as your email login, your browser may ask if you would like for the password to be remembered. If you choose for the password to be remembered, it will be stored by the browser and then prepopulated the next time you visit that Web page. This can save a great deal of time and headaches, but can also compromise security if other parties were to use your browser.

Search History

Any time you perform a keyword search using the browser's search box or search bar, a record is stored locally on your hard drive. This data is defined as search history, and can pose similar privacy worries as browsing history.

Site Preferences (Firefox Only)

Preferences saved for specific websites, such as character encoding, the saved zoom level, and permissions described in the Page Info window are all stored in this history component.

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