This is an interesting question, because while it’s pretty much common knowledge that browsers store user history, it’s not asked so much where else browsing history is (or can be) stored. Where exactly is browsing history stored? Where are the different places that browsing history can be tracked/logged/stored?
That’s what we’ll cover in this guide, detailing not just browsers, but the other places/devices/agencies/companies that can also collect and track online user data if they want to. We’ll also cover how to clear and protect this data if you want to, to prevent it being tracked and stored for more privacy focused internet users.
Note – If you’re asking the more technical question of where exactly within browsers that the history is stored, see this article for more information. It’s usually stored in an SQLite database within the browser, but we’re not focusing on this topic in this article – we’re more focused on the different places, devices and agencies where browsing history is collected and stored.
Let’s get started!
The Different Places Where Browsing History Is Stored
Most people immediately think of browsers as the main place where user history gets stored, but there are actually other places where your history can be logged/collected/stored.
Here’s a more complete list:
- Browsers – Widely known – all browsers will store the browsing history of the user unless set to Incognito/Private mode, and unless deleted by the user (see below). Ctrl + H is a common shortcut to bring up browsing history on many apps.
- Routers – Some (but not all) routers will also store browsing history. Can be deleted by clearing logs or factory reset (see below)
- Network administrators – If you’re using a public network such as an employer, college, university, halls of residence etc, the administrators of this network can also track user browsing history if they choose to.
- Search Engines – Sites like Google and Bing will also store user search history, especially when logged in to your account. You can clear and deactivate Google search history, but even if you do, they’re probably still logging and storing it somewhere. Best to use search engines when logged out and also with a VPN.
- Apps – Sites and platforms like Amazon, Netflix etc also store user search history, which can be cleared from the settings, but is still probably saved somewhere else. Not a great deal you can do about this.
- Hard drives – Will also contain all user/browse history – anything you write onto a hard drive will be there forever and can only really be destroyed by physically destroying the hard drive itself (get those hammers ready!).
- Internet providers (ISPs) – An often forgotten one. Some ISPs do also collect and store user browsing history (again not always, but sometimes). Whilst it’s true that browsing history is not displayed on internet bills, some providers do still log and collect user history on some level. Varies by country and provider.
- Intelligence agencies – Agencies like the NSA in America are well known to be collecting data on everyone pretty much globally, not just American citizens. If you’re online without a VPN, they can track what you’re doing, and possibly even with a VPN (hard to know exactly how advanced their tracking is). But just surfing unprotected, they can see everything you’re doing online.
Therefore just clearing your browser history, while a decent first step, isn’t the only thing you might need to do to clear all your online activity.
Finding & Clearing Browsing History From Browsers
Although all browsers store user history by default, it’s also pretty easy to delete this history on most browsers.
Here’s a quick guide for major browsers on viewing and clearing history:
- Firefox – Click the 3 lines burger icon on the far top right of the screen, then click Options…..Privacy & Security and move down to Cookies & Site Data. Click Clear Data, check the Cached Web Content box and click Clear. Then refresh page and see if video loads. See here.
- Chrome – Click the 3 dots More icon at the top right, then click More Tools…..Clear Browsing Data. Choose a time range. Make sure the “cached images and files” box is checked and click Clear data. See here
- Edge – Click on the 3 dots “settings and more” burger icon in the corner, then go to Settings….Privacy, search and services. Go to Clear Browsing Data Now, then choose what to clear. Select the time range and check all boxes you want, then click Clear now. If you want to clear history off all synced devices, make sure sync is turned on and you are logged in. See here.
- Brave Browser – Click Ctrl + H, or click on the 3 dots burger icon in the top right corner, and then click History. Click Clear Browsing data, and then select all types of data plus time frames you want to delete. It works much the same as Chrome, and there’s also an “On Exit” tab to select what type of data you want deleted automatically every time you close the browser. See here.
- Opera – Click Ctrl + H to bring up history, then click on Clear browsing data in the top right corner. Select the time frame and flick between Basic/Advanced and select what you want deleting, then click Clear Data. See here.
- Safari – Click the Safari button from the Settings or the top menu bar, go to History….Clear History, then select how far you want to go back, and click Clear. See here.
See our full guide on clearing browsing history for more detailed steps for all browser on all device types.
Another good free tool is the CCleaner app, which can run scans of all your browsers and clear all data from them all at once if you want. All browsers need to be closed though for this app to clear history off them; any browser still open will be skipped.
Stopping Browsers From Tracking Your History
If you’d rather just not have your browser track or store your history at all when you use it, most browsers now have settings to accommodate more privacy conscious users.
In general, you’re looking for some of kind of Incognito or Private Window feature (or “Open New Private Window/Tab”, or something similar).
Most browsers have their own version of this now; here’s a more specific breakdown:
- Firefox – Use the Ctrl + Shift + P shortcut, or click on the 3 dots burger icon in the top right corner, and select New Private Window
- Chrome – Use the Ctrl + Shift + N shortcut, or click on the 3 dots burger icon in the top right corner, and click on New Incognito Window. See here.
- Edge – Click on the 3 dots icon (Settings and more), and click New InPrivate Window. Or you can right click and link and there’s an option to open link in an InPrivate Window. See here.
- Brave Browser – use Ctrl + Shift + N to open a new Private Window, or click on the 3 dots burger icon in the top right and select New Private Window. There’s also a “New Private Window with Tor” option, which routes traffic through multiple Tor servers, but speeds might be much slower using this.
- Opera – Click Ctrl + Shift + N or click on the Opera symbol in the top left corner, and select New Private Window.
- Safari – In the app, choose File…..New Private Window. You can also set Safari to always open only Private Windows. Go to Safari…Settings…..General and set it from there. See here.
All these various browser modes at least hide your browsing history from all other users of that device. Any browsing done in Private/Incognito windows is not stored (or will be wiped as soon as you exit) and won’t show up in history.
This at least prevents one aspect of user tracking, but as we’ve covered, browsers are only one place of several that history can stored, so you need to be more comprehensive than that to fully protect yourself online.
Let’s cover some of these other factors below.
Finding & Clearing Browsing History From Routers
Some routers also store browsing history for all connected users, so if you really want to clear everything, you need to delete this as well.
Here’s your two main ways of doing this:
Method #1 – Log into your router’s settings using the details on the label, find your User Logs/History or similar, and delete them. Is the more technical and precise way of doing it – you basically clear the router activity logs. Not all routers even store logs, but see our guide on accessing the configuration to check and delete if necessary.
Method #2 – Factory reset your router. Is a more “nuclear” option, but also clears all settings and logs, including user history, and restores everything back to like when the router shipped new.
This method usually involves pushing a pin into some kind of recessed reset hole on the router for about 5-20 seconds until the lights flash or blink or go out, and then waiting up to 10 minutes for everything to reboot and your service to come back online.
Again, this is quite a drastic option and will cause a lot of disruption – all connections will be lost for up to 10 minutes or more, all passwords get reset, all users have to re-connect, all other custom settings also get wiped – but it will also wipe all user history off the router.
Again, see our article for a full guide on using factory reboots to delete router history.
Preventing Browsing History From Being Tracked/Logged Remotely (VPN)
While it’s true there’s a lot of plugging of VPNs from affiliates online now, underneath all the marketing, it is also true that they are an important tool for online privacy. Virtual Private Networks or VPNs are powerful pieces of software that add another very strong layer of encryption around your connection, hiding your internet traffic in very hard to hack virtual tunnels, and also concealing your actual IP address and location.
If you’re concerned about your browsing history being tracked at the router/ISP/organization/network level as well as your browser, VPNs are a good solution to prevent that. VPNs do conceal your browsing data from external logging/tracking at least in the commercial world, and possibly also from government agencies, although it’s hard to know what they can and can’t hack.
How VPNs Use Encryption
Good bottom line analogy – Using a non VPN connection is akin to sending a postcard to someone – the post guy transporting it (analogous to your router/ISP) can easily snoop and read what’s on it. Using a VPN connection is akin to sending something to someone in a locked box that only you and the recipient have the key for. The postman can’t see what’s in the box and can only forward it to the recipient, but has no idea what’s in it.
Therefore, a VPN will block your router and ISP (as well as administrators or anyone else on the network) from tracking or storing history – at most, they can just see that an encrypted connection exists, plus the volume of data being sent. But they cannot see exactly what that data is if you’re using a legitimate VPN software.
For users relatively new to VPNs, and wanting to know how they work, there are some decent free VPN options available, some even with unlimited data (there are also bad free VPNs – avoid proxies and browser VPNs). USA users are in luck, because there’s some great unlimited options with lots of free US servers as well.
See the table below for some good free options to try out a VPN and see how it works in encrypting your connection:
|Provider||Free Server Locations||Data Limit||More Info|
|ProtonVPN||3 (USA, Amsterdam, Japan)||Unlimited||See here|
|AtlasVPN||3 (USA East, USA West, Amsterdam)||5 GB/month||See here|
|TurboVPN||4 (USA, Germany, Singapore, India).||Unlimited||See here|
|Hide.me||5 (Netherlands, USA*2, Germany, Canada)||10 GB/month||See here|
|PrivadoVPN||10 (USA, UK, Canada, Germany, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina)||10 GB/month||See here|
|Windscribe||10 (USA, UK, Canada, Hong Kong, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Romania, Denmark).||10 GB/month||See here|
|Tunnelbear||49||500 MB/month||See here|
And for Premium options, NordVPN, ExpressVPN, ProtonVPN and Private Internet Access (PIA) are four larger, better known ones, but there’s plenty of others as well, like VyprVPN, PrivadoVPN, and so on.
Summary Of Best Practices For Protecting Online Browsing Data
No one can claim to offer a 100% fool-proof, fail-safe way of guaranteeing that your browsing history cannot be tracked or stored by anyone or anything. There are too many moving parts in today’s online/tech world to be able to guarantee that.
However, here are some best practices that, when combined together, at least give you a decent chance that your browsing history is not being collected or stored, both locally (on browser) and remotely (router/ISP/network level):
- Always use Incognito/Private windows on any browser you use.
- Also, if available, set the browser to either “never track/store/log user history” or “delete history on exit” to make sure it’s wiped whenever you close it down. Or manually delete history every time you’ve finished using it.
- Always use a VPN to stop your router and ISP tracking or storing your browsing history.
- Never use search engines when logged in, as search history will be stored, and preferably use with a VPN as well to conceal your location and real IP address.