Protect Your Privacy by Erasing Tracks Left on Your Computer

by : Richard Rogers

When you browse the web information is continuously collected by the websites you visit and by your own computer. For example, websites at a minimum collect information about the web browser you use the operating system of your computer and the geography you reside from. However, what surprises most users is the amount of information that is collected on your computer from your surfing habits and daily use.

Your web browser stores a lot of different types of information which is designed to improve your internet surfing experience but nevertheless poses a privacy risk. The sites or URLs which you visit are stored in the browser's "history." Search results are saved when you enter a search term into a search engine like Google. Web content and images are stored in the "temp" folder. Files that you download are stored in the download manager.

Websites also place "Cookies" onto your hard drive. A cookie is a small text file and is used by websites to offer advanced features. Some of the information that cookies store include shopping basket items or log-in information for a membership site. Cookies can also store information about when you visited the site including date and time.

Given all this information being collected above you can easily see why this could become a privacy risk. It would not take someone who knew what they were doing too long to figure out what websites you visit, what you have bought online and what search terms you are looking for. This is unfortunately not the end of it.

If you are a user of instant messenger or chat programs like AIM, MSN Instant Messenger or even Skype then it is important to be aware that the programs saves your chat history. Most programs allow you turn this feature off.

There are number of other places besides your web browser where information is stored on your computer. This data can allow people to figure out what you have been doing on your computer. Media players like RealPlayer and Microsoft Media Play store audio and video playing history. Microsoft Office like Excel and PowerPoint applications store information about the most recently accessed files.

Another important thing to remember is that when you delete a file it is not necessarily permanently erased and can be recovered with the right software. When you first hit delete the file is moved to the Recycle Bin. Even when you empty the Recycle Bin the file still exists on your hard drive until Windows overwrites it.

Here are two things you can do to help reduce the privacy risks from your computer.

  • Use a free software tool called "CCleaner" ( to clear information collected by your web browser and Windows's Temp Folder. This software automates the manual process of using your browser options menu to clean out cookies, URL history etc. Try to run this tool once a week or more frequently if you are a heavy internet user.
  • If you work with sensitive data files on your computer then you may want to consider investing in secure file "shredder" software. This type of software actually overwrites or "bleaches" the file you want to delete which means that it cannot be restored.