Everything is connected.
With modern browsers and services like Google, your browsing and search history are can be linked with an account, so it can be possible to see your browsing history on other computers or mobiles. If your mobile is linked to your Google account then a search you do on your mobile might come up as a suggestion on your home computer. If you are very concerned, the only way to be sure is to use a completely different computer that the people you are worried about can’t get access to, either at a local library, internet cafe, at a trusted friend’s house or at work. Even then DO NOT log into any of your accounts (email, Google) while you are on them. If you want to take extra precautions you should use private or incognito browsing (see below).
What you computer stores about you.
While you are browsing online your computer is storing information about what you are doing. This includes your browsing history, which is a list of sites you have visited; cookies which are little bits of code that your computer stores which are usually there to help your browsing; cached images and files which are files that your computer stores so when you return to a site you don’t have to load them again. Even the search terms you put in when searching can be stored.
Usually your computer stores all of that information to help you, for example to help you find a website again, to speed up the loading of websites, to store the information you looked for last time you were on a site. But if you are worried that someone is monitoring your online activity then this evidence could be dangerous.
If you are really worried, DO NOT USE your own computer, DO NOT log onto any of your accounts when using a different computer, and use private browsing when possible.
Clearing your web browser’s history
You can clear some evidence of sites you have visited by clearing your web browser’s history. It is not a good idea to clear all of your history as that may raise suspicion. Most modern browsers will allow you to delete individual items from your history so you can remove the ones that might be suspicious. We do not give instructions for individual browsers here as they are all different and they keep changing. However, there is often a history menu item which allows you to access your browsing history, and from there you can delete items from your history.
However, this will not remove all records from your computer’s memory, and someone in your home would not have to be a computer expert to find the remaining records.
Cookies are small bits of software that many sites leave on your computer. Usually they help your browser remember where you have been on a site. DO NOT WIPE ALL COOKIES as this could raise suspicion and cause problems when you (or other people who use the same computer) return to previous sites. Some browsers allow you to clear your browsing data from a certain period of time, for example, the last hour. Look in the menu for an item like ‘clear browsing data’.
Private browsing or incognito mode
Browsers like Safari and Chrome allow you to go online in private or incognito mode. When this mode is on then the browser does not remember your history or your search history. It is not perfect. But if you have no other option and need to get online then it at least it gives you some protection. It is VERY IMPORTANT turn on the private browsing or incognito mode BEFORE you log onto the site that you want to hide. Private and incognito browser windows look different from normal ones so make sure you quit the browser or close the window down once you have finished. And then turn off private browsing.
Safety on mobiles and tablets
Devices are often linked though services like Google, so even though you are out of the house, using your own phone, data about what you are viewing can still be stored elsewhere. You can use incognito mode and private browsing on mobiles and tablets. This will stop your history being stored. Remember to turn this on before you go onto a site you want to hide, and close down windows once you have finished.
Keep using the internet for your usual activity
If you usually use the internet for work, research, shopping, leisure and so on, keep using it for all these. If you use features like private browsing or incognito mode, make sure you do some of your usual browsing with these turned off so your browsing history does not look different.
Beware of the back button
Even if you have used private browsing, if your browsing windows are open when someone else goes on your computer, it will be possible for them to click back through what you have been looking at using the back button. When you have finished make sure you quit your browser or at least close the tab or window you were on.