By Lori Kaufman
A large amount of our time is spent online, and your browser remembers all the websites you’ve visited and logged in to. Your browser stores data to make it easier and quicker to go back to websites you visit often.
Browsing data reveals your browsing habits, and can be accessed by sites you visit. If you’re concerned about your privacy, you can manage and delete your browsing history and other browsing data, like cookies, cache, and AutoFill information.
Browsing history is a record of every webpage you visit. Your browser stores the URLs for every page, except when you use private browsing mode. As you start typing a URL in the address bar of your browser, previously visited URLs display in a dropdown list that match what you’re typing. Also, when you search on Google, search results that match webpages in your browsing history are shown as “already visited.”
Browsing history can help improve your browsing experience, but it also exposes your browsing habits. If other people use your Mac from time to time, or you get family members looking over your shoulder as you surf the web, you may want to delete your browsing history on a regular basis.
Manually Clear Browsing History and Other Browsing Data
You can manually clear your browsing history at any time. Two of the ways to clear all your browser history are:
- Go to Safari > Clear History.
- Go to History > Clear History.
Using either way above, you’ll see the following dialog box. Choose how far back you want to clear history from the dropdown list and then click Clear History.
Open the Safari or History menu, but press and hold down the Option key before selecting the Clear History option. You’ll see the option change to Clear History and Keep Website Data. Keep the Option key pressed and select that option.
Manually Clear Individual Websites From Browsing History
If you’ve visited a few sites you don’t want saved in your history, but you don’t want to delete everything, you can delete individual sites from your history. This is also a way to keep your other website data when deleting your browsing history.
To manually clear only certain websites from your browsing history, go to History > Show All History. The webpage on the current tab is replaced with the History screen. You’ll see a list of all the sites grouped by days or dates.
Click on a website you want to clear and press the Delete key. You can also right click on an item and select Delete. To delete multiple items, use the Shift and Command keys while clicking on items and then press the Delete key. You cannot right-click on multiple items to delete them.
The Clear History option we talked about in the previous section is also available on the History screen as a button. There’s no Clear History and Keep Website Data option available here, though.
To close the History screen and return to the webpage you were viewing on the current tab, click the Back button on the toolbar.
Remove History Items Automatically
If you’d rather not manually clear your browsing history, you can have Safari remove browsing history items for you on a set schedule
Go to Safari > Preferences and make sure the General tab is active. Click the Remove history items dropdown list and select the time frame after which you want Safari to delete browsing history items.
For example, if you add some items to your cart on Amazon and then leave Amazon, the items are still in the cart when you come back. Your login information and cart items are stored in cookies and reloaded when you visit Amazon again.
Cookies only store what you’ve entered on websites. Websites cannot get any more information from cookies than you personally provided on websites. But, third-party tracking cookies follow you around as you surf the web, allowing advertising and marketing agencies to view your browsing history. Then, these companies can target you with adverts they think are relevant to your interests.
Clear All Cookies or Only Cookies for Certain Sites
You can delete all cookies stored on your computer, or only cookies for certain sites.
Go to Safari > Preferences and click Privacy. Then, click Manage Website Data.
If you don’t want any sites to store cookies on your computer, check the Block all cookiesbox above the Manage Website Data button. But, remember that not allowing cookies, or deleting cookies, will force you to log in to websites every time you visit them and not save what you’ve added to carts on shopping sites.
You’ll see a list of all sites that have stored data in cookies (or in the cache, discussed in the next section) on your computer. Scroll through the list and select a website for which you want to delete the cookie, or other website data. Click Remove.
If you know which site for which you want to delete the cookies, use the Search box at the top of the dialog box. You can also select multiple sites using the Shift and Command keys and click Remove.
To remove all the cookies and website data, click Remove All.
Why do browsers store these files? When you go back to a website, the browser checks which content was updated since the last time you visited. Only updated files or files not already stored in the cache are downloaded. This allows websites to load faster, which can be helpful if you are surfing over a slow or limited internet connection.
Your browser cache can get very large over time and eat up a lot of space on your hard drive. You also may have files in your cache from websites you’re never going to visit again. You can clear your cache to get rid of files you won’t need again and to free up space on your hard drive.
Completely Clear Safari’s Cache
To empty the cache in Safari, you need the Develop menu, which you may not see on the menu bar. If it’s not there, go to Safari > Preferences and click Advanced. Then, check the Show Develop menu in menu bar box.
Once you see the Develop menu, close all Safari windows, leaving the Safari menu bar in place (keep the browser focused). Then, go to Develop > Empty Caches.
Any websites you visit after emptying caches will take a bit longer to load, because all the files for the site have to be downloaded again.
Disable AutoFill and Delete the Data
To disable AutoFill, go to Safari > Preferences and click AutoFill. Uncheck the four boxes on the AutoFill screen.
Unchecking the boxes does not delete any data that’s been previously stored. Click the Edit button to the right of the data type you want to delete.
For example, when we click Edit to the right of the User names and password check box, we are taken to the Passwords screen in Safari Preferences. To access Safari passwords, you must enter your user password.
Then, you can select a website and click Remove. Use the Shift and Command keys to select multiple websites you want to remove.
If you use AutoFill, but the forms on a website are being filled with the wrong information, you can change the information for that website. Double-click on the User Name or Password you want to change and make the desired change. You can also change the Website URLs.
You can even add new entries manually using the Add button.
Protect Yourself Online
Browsing history, cookies, and cache can make your browsing experience more convenient. They can also compromise your privacy. It’s a good idea to clear your browsing data on a regular basis. You can also use private browsing in Safari which prevents any browsing data from being stored on your Mac.
Basically, your private information is a hot commodity, and that includes your browsing data. But, there are things you can do to protect yourself, including using a VPN when connecting to the internet.
How do you protect yourself online? How often do you clear your browsing data and history? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below.