When using the internet, your devices store information about the websites you visit and your online activities. This data is known as browsing data or browser history. Clearing your browsing data means deleting this information from your device’s internet browser and any associated apps.
Understanding what browsing data gets cleared and why it may be beneficial helps make informed decisions about managing your digital footprint.
Types of Browsing Data Stored
There are several categories of browsing data that get accumulated:
- Lists of websites visited and date/timestamp
- Pages you landed on from search engines or links
- Chronological log of online travels
- Small text files sites use to identify users
- Store login info, site preferences, shopping cart items
- Can track across sites for ads and analytics
Cached Images and Files
- Images, videos, and documents downloaded are kept in cache
- Speeds up viewing previously visited pages
- Temporarily stored for efficiency
- Any passwords saved for convenience on sites
- Auto-fill passwords streamline logins but get stored
- Syncing saves these across devices
- Names, addresses, credit cards, and other form data
- Auto-populated when completing online profiles, shopping, etc.
- Can include sensitive personal information
Why Clear Browsing Data?
There are a few key reasons people clear their browsing history and internet data caches:
- Privacy – Prevent others from seeing your internet activity when using your device. Delete logs and tracker cookies.
- Security – Remove stored passwords and sensitive form data that could be maliciously accessed.
- Free up space – Cache and cookies can accumulate taking up device storage over time.
- Fix issues – Clearing data can resolve browser glitches or connection problems.
- Start fresh – Wipe slate clean to experience sites like new again.
Browsing Data Clearing Options
Internet browsers provide options to clear subsets of your browsing data:
- Browser history – Delete list of sites visited.
- Cookies and site data – Remove info sites store about you.
- Cached images and files – Clear saved media and documents.
- Passwords – Erase saved passwords but keep current logins.
- Autofill form data – Delete auto-populated names, addresses, credit cards.
- Site permissions – Reset location/camera/microphone access permissions.
- All data – Wipe all the above simultaneously.
Browsers make it easy to select and delete as much or as little data as you want.
How Completely is Data Deleted?
When you clear browsing data, it removes the information from your local browser and device storage. However, traces likely still exist in a few forms:
- Websites you logged into still have your activity in their databases. Clearing local data doesn’t delete their records.
- Your internet service provider keeps broadband usage logs of sites visited.
- Work or school networks track devices on their systems.
- Governments can request data from technology companies if required.
So while not 100% removed from existence, clearing your browsing data deletes the copies on your own computer or phone for privacy.
Browsing Data is Never Truly Deletable
Due to the nature of internet technology, browsing histories and online activity cannot be permanently erased or made anonymous given the layers of access across networks, servers and databases. But judiciously clearing local device data does help improve privacy.
How to Clear Browsing Data
Major browsers make data clearing easy:
- Click the 3-dot menu > History > Clear browsing data
- Select time range and data types
- Click “Clear data”
- Click the 3-line menu > Settings > Privacy & Security
- Scroll down to Cookies and Site Data
- Choose “Clear Data”
- Click the 3-dot menu > Settings > Privacy, search and services
- Under “Clear browsing data” select data types and time period.
- Click “Clear now”
Refer to your browser’s help documentation for exact steps. Consider making it a habit every so often.
Be Selective in What You Delete
Aim to strike a balance between maintaining usefulness while increasing privacy. Consider:
- Keeping search and form autofill to avoid constant re-entry.
- Retaining some browsing history for convenience accessing old pages.
- Only removing cached data hogging space versus all files which can negatively impact site performance.
- Keeping useful cookies like logins while deleting ad trackers for better privacy.
Supplement With Additional Privacy Tools
Beyond clearing browser data, further obscure your digital trail by:
- Using privacy-focused browsers like DuckDuckGo or Tor.
- Adding browser extensions that block ad trackers.
- Enabling private/incognito browsing when needed.
- Using a trustworthy VPN service and secure connections.
Take advantage of robust privacy technologies now available.
The web never forgets. But by understanding what gets stored from your browsing activities and periodically wiping local device data, you can exercise more control over your privacy. Clearing your browser history, cache, cookies and other tracking data helps minimize unwanted surveillance in the digital age.
Browser Privacy FAQs
Does clearing history also delete bookmarks?
No, bookmarks are retained when clearing your browsing history. Bookmark data is stored separately.
Can deleted browsing data be recovered?
No, once cleared the data is permanently deleted unless you have a backup. However, traces remain in website servers.
Is it better to clear browser data manually or let it auto-delete?
Periodically manually clearing data ensures selective removal of desired info vs auto-deletion which may not be as tailored.
Should I also clear app browsing data?
Yes, apps like Facebook also cache usage data locally that should be wiped for full privacy. Access these in app settings.
Does private browsing prevent collection of browsing data?
Yes, any history, cookies, searches, etc. in a private window won’t be retained locally after closing all private tabs and windows.
Can employers or schools see your deleted browsing history?
Possibly on managed networks with monitoring software, but you can request they avoid tracking if concerned.
Is browser data still stored when deleting individual history items?
Partial or individual deletion removes items from view but cached data remains in storage behind the scenes.
Take control of your browsing data trail for greater privacy and security. Handle digital information judiciously.