Browse the Web Privately

When you browse the web, you reveal your inner life. From your Google searches to your Facebook history, your web activity reflects your needs and interests. A controlling partner could exploit your web browser to monitor this private life—each website leaves its trace in history and cookies. Browser history is a record of each website you visit and when. While seemingly harmless, this record can grow so large that it captures years of activity. Cookies are pieces of data used by websites to store login information, website settings, or advertising data; they also let you return to websites and still be logged in. Between history and cookies, your partner can easily track everything you do in your web browser.

You can secure your web browsing according to the amount of control you have over your computer and cell phone. Available on both platforms is the "Private Window" in Firefox, the "Incognito Window" in Chrome, and the "Private Window" in Safari; these windows automatically delete website records and cookies from that window. All you have to do is click "New Private Window" under the "File" menu at the top of your browser. This is an easy, reliable option for when you don't want to leave a trace of your web browsing, but you don't want to mess with your browser. Note that leaving no history could be suspicious to your partner if they're monitoring your web activity, in which case using a private window for sensitive browsing, or deleting history on a case-by-case basis, is ideal. Choose whichever strategy you feel most comfortable with.

Automatically Delete Your Activity

History and cookies accumulate over time. What results is an immense trove of your personal activity, as well as an overabundance of cookies (some of which may be stored by malicious websites for advertising tracking). The best strategy to prevent this build-up is to simply disable history and cookie collection in the first place. Every major web browser on Windows and OS X offers customized settings to automatically delete browsing data—check your preferences, usually under "Privacy Settings" or "Advanced Settings", and look for the option to clear history and/or cookies when you exit the browser. It's best to leave history and cookies enabled during your browsing session; if you risk being interrupted, a private browsing window may be better.

Deleting Activity on a Case-by-Case Basis

Sometimes you may need to delete specific web activity, but don't want to delete your entire browsing history. That's okay! You can also delete history and cookies on your computer on a case-by-case basis. For history, select "Show All History" under the "History" tab and choose the records to want to delete. For cookies, investigate the Preferences or Settings menus until you find the cookie settings; you can then choose to remove whichever cookies you like. You also have the option of deleting entire periods of time, like the past hour or day, for both cookies and history. This is usually labelled as "Clear History".

Mobile Browsing

Smartphones offer far less control than computers when it comes to web browsing. You can't easily search history, nor do you have simple access to your cookies. Additionally, many apps tend to use their own built-in browsers, separate from your main browser, that have no options for settings or data management. Ultimately, this removes the option to delete activity on a case-by-case basis. However, you can still use private windows when you don't want to leave a trace. For more comprehensively secure web browsing on OS X, you can download Firefox Focus which automatically deletes your history and cookies. It also blocks advertisement tracking. On Android, you can download Firefox for Android which has more accessible settings than Chrome.

Protecting yourself from website tracking

Most websites track your activity, which they either use internally within their companies or sell to 3rd parties. This is less of a direct risk to your privacy than a controlling partner. However, this aggregation of data often leads to consumer profiles that can be sold openly on the internet, containing your name, address, phone number, and other personal details. To prevent website tracking, you can install browser extensions that automatically fights surveillance without any effort from you. Check out our other cybersecurity resource, the DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity for more detailed information.