How To Hide Your Browsing History and Protect Your Privacy

Learn who can see your internet browsing history and how to hide it from prying eyes.
We may receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

Browsing the internet is an everyday task for the majority of the world, whether that’s searching for answers to questions, conducting online shopping, or using social media. No matter what online activity you’re doing, a trail of data will be left behind, which is called your browsing history or search history.

The question is, who can see your internet activity? In this article, we’ll take a look at all the entities that can see your web activity, along with tips on how to make this activity private.

In this article
Who can see your browsing history?
How do I keep my browsing history private?
Why do ISPs track my browsing history?
Does Incognito Mode protect my browsing history?
Why should I protect my browsing history?
Browsing history FAQ
Bottom line

Who can see your browsing history?

Let’s get right into it. There are several entities that can see and collect your online activity. These are internet service providers (ISPs), browsers, hackers, governments, apps and websites, and network administrators.

Internet service providers (ISPs)

Your ISP can see the exact website pages you visit along with the amount of time spent on each site. This allows your internet provider to monitor and record your browsing history to improve their network performance for you, comply with any legal requirements, or target advertisements at you.

Browsers

Regardless of your web browser preference, whether you use Chrome, Firefox, or Edge, it will often collect data from your browsing history, unless you’re using a specific browser that doesn’t do this. Although the aim of tracking your browsing, search queries, and cookies is to provide you with a better browsing experience, these logs can be used for the browser’s benefit or shared with third parties without your discretion.

Hackers

Your browsing history is susceptible to attacks from cyber threats through malware, phishing, or vulnerabilities in your network. This may allow these cybercriminals to steal sensitive data, such as your login credentials.

Governments

In some countries, governments have the ability to monitor and collect data from your browsing history. Typically, this will be through surveillance programs or intelligence departments that have backdoors in communication systems, have implemented legal requirements in the country, or are intercepting data.

Apps and websites

Most apps and websites nowadays collect and use your data to provide you with a more personalized browsing experience. By gathering this data, social media platforms and search engines alike can target specific advertisements at you based on your browsing history.

Network administrators

Shared networks, such as public Wi-Fi or at your workplace, permit the administrators of the network to monitor all traffic through their network.

How do I keep my internet history private?

If you wish to keep your browsing history private, you can use a VPN, private browser, or proxy server.

Use a VPN

A VPN (virtual private network) is a useful tool that allows you to privatize your online browsing. You may wonder, what does a VPN hide? Well, the purpose of a VPN connection is to secure your online browsing history and sensitive data by establishing a private connection between your device and the internet, whether that be a computer, mobile device, tablet, or other device.

VPNs are great to use when you’re connected to a public Wi-Fi network or you’re trying to access geo-restricted content, as you can place your internet connection on a server in the country of your choice and enjoy unrestricted internet access.

Pros

  • Encryption: VPNs block ISPs, hackers, and other parties from attempting to access your data.
  • Anonymity: Websites find it difficult to track your true identity as your IP address is masked and you’re assigned a random one from the VPN server.
  • Bypassing restrictions: Streaming services specific to countries can be accessed.

Cons

  • Cost: Unfortunately, not all VPNs are free, and if you want advanced security features, you will need to pay a fixed fee.
  • Connection speed: Depending on the VPN provider you opt for, you may experience reduced internet speed as your connection is rerouted.

Find the right VPN for your budget and needs with our list of the best VPN apps.

Use a private browser

Using a private browser is an important step to help protect your online privacy. Private browsers such as Tor and DuckDuckGo offer extra security settings than those available on standard web browsers such as Chrome's Incognito mode. These additional settings prevent data storage and tracking of your activity while browsing the web, ensuring maximum privacy.

The Tor Browser is based off the Firefox open-source project and its main purpose is to maintain your anonymity while you’re browsing the web. It prevents trackers from gathering data, provides enhanced encryption of communication, and avoids IP address tracking.

The DuckDuckGo privacy browser offers similar features as the Tor browser, such as blocking third-party cookies, encrypting web traffic, and preventing websites from collecting personal data, such as IP addresses or search queries.

Use Incognito mode

Google Chrome's Incognito mode is a viable option for those looking to browse the internet without a history, cookies, or login details being stored. Also known as private browsing on Safari and some other browsers, they provide an isolated environment temporarily for you to browse without storing any data.

Using incognito mode is useful when you want to log in to numerous accounts simultaneously on the same website, as all information is kept separate. It’s also great when you’re looking to purchase something, whether it’s gifts or flights for a holiday. Not only does it leave no trail of your activity, but it doesn't allow the sites to have access to your history, in case they bump up the prices.

Pros

  • Temporary data: By clearing your browsing and cookie data every time you close the browser, the environment is kept clean.
  • Shared devices: When using public computers or shared devices with family members, your online activity can remain secret.

Cons

  • Limited privacy: Unfortunately, private browsers are unable to provide complete anonymity. ISPs and websites you visit may still track your activity while you’re browsing.
  • Local monitoring: It also doesn’t stop network administrators from accessing internet usage information.

Use a proxy server

Proxy servers act as an intermediary between your device and the internet by forwarding any requests and masking your IP address. This allows you to enjoy an extra layer of anonymity and bypass geo-restrictions to access content or websites blocked in your region. Although similar, proxy servers do not provide the same level of security as VPNs.

Pros

  • Anonymity: By masking your IP address, websites will find it very hard to figure out your location and track online activity.
  • Content filtering: Provides access to websites that may be blocked by your network or ISP.

Cons

  • Limited security: Security and encryption aren’t as important with proxy servers compared to VPNs. This could lead to hackers being able to breach your network and retrieve data.
  • Speed and reliability: Internet speeds can be dramatically slowed down along with unreliable connections compared to the other methods.

Why do ISPs track my browsing history?

ISPs have the ability to collect data by tracking your browsing history, understandably raising concerns regarding your data security and privacy. They do so for a number of legitimate reasons, such as advertisements, network optimization, network security, compliance with regulations, troubleshooting, and customer support.

Targeted advertising

By collecting your online browsing data, ISPs analyze patterns and target advertisements based on your interests, demographics, and online behavior.

Network optimization

ISPs monitor the types of websites you visit and the data you consume, along with the periods of peak internet traffic, so that they can optimize their network performance to suit demand.

Unfortunately, some internet providers use bandwidth throttling as a type of network optimization. This means your internet speeds are significantly reduced, which could make it almost impossible to view web pages, let alone stream Netflix or game online.

Network security

By analyzing and identifying patterns and suspicious behavior, ISPs can detect and prevent malicious attacks on the network, ultimately protecting users from incidents like phishing, malware, or illegal distribution.

Compliance with regulations

In many locations across the world, ISPs are required to collect and store user data for specific periods by law, in case enforcement agencies ever require the data.

Troubleshooting and customer support

ISPs are able to diagnose and provide solutions to technical issues more efficiently and effectively by tracking web browser history. Not only does this provide greater troubleshooting in terms of network connectivity, but it also enables them to provide improved customer support.

Does Incognito Mode protect my browsing history?

Incognito mode, or private browsing, is often the solution to privacy for many online browsers, due to its ease of accessibility. You can simply open a new tab within your browser that is in incognito or private mode. However, it’s vital to be aware that it has some limitations compared to using a VPN or a private browser.

Incognito mode is suitable when using a public or shared computer to prevent your browsing activity and data from being stored on the device. But you should not solely rely on this method to provide anonymity and protection of your browsing history and data, as it cannot protect against external entities. If you wish to have complete anonymous browsing and greater security measures in place, you should opt for a VPN or a private browser like Tor, as they offer far greater layers of privacy and secure encryption.

What Incognito Mode does protect

  • It can prevent browsing history from being saved.
  • It will delete cookies and any data from a session as soon as you close the window.
  • No data, such as login or personal details, is stored.
  • All downloaded files will be deleted after the session.

What Incognito Mode doesn't protect

  • ISPs are still able to track your browsing history and see which websites you visit.
  • The websites you visit can also still track activity with cookies and IP tracking.
  • Network administrators who have access to your device can monitor your web browsing.

Why should I protect my browsing history?

There are many legal and ethical reasons to be inclined to protect your browsing history. First of all, you can protect your right to privacy from unnecessary monitoring by safeguarding your browser history. You can also shield sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands, including login details and financial data.

By protecting your online activity, you can minimize the amount and frequency of personalized ads you encounter, as the collection of data required for this will be kept to a minimum. Cybercriminals will have difficulty exploiting your browsing habits if you hide your browsing data, ultimately minimizing the risk of identity theft and keeping fraudulent activities from occurring.

You can also achieve intellectual freedom by being able to explore a range of ideas, opinions, and information without having to fear reprisal.

Browsing history FAQ


+

Can I use a free VPN to protect my browsing history?

It’s possible to use a free VPN, but they do not offer the same level of security as paid subscriptions. If you wish to truly secure your browsing history and data, you should opt for a reputable paid VPN service.


+

Can people see what you searched on their Wi-Fi?

The owner or network administrator can monitor your online activity if you’re connected to their Wi-Fi. If you wish to hide this data, you should use a VPN to protect your privacy.


+

Can my ISP share my data?

If your ISP is complying with legal requirements, such as an enforcement agency requesting information, then yes, they may share your data. It’s recommended to review your ISP’s privacy policy for accurate insights.


+

Can anyone see my deleted browsing history?

You would think that once you delete your browsing history, it’s gone, right? Not necessarily. There are sophisticated tools that target data recovery and may be able to retrieve your deleted browsing history. Therefore, it’s advised to use secure deletion approaches if you truly wish to eradicate data.

Bottom line

Protecting your browsing history is ever so important in today’s world. By employing a VPN, private browser, or proxy server, you can protect your browsing history and secure your privacy against ISPs, browsers, hackers, and other entities. Taking proactive steps to ensure internet browsing anonymity can enable you to enjoy a more secure and private online experience.

Additionally, you might also consider using an ad blocker with your web browser of choice. Ad blocker browser extensions often come with third-party tracker blockers as well, which add another layer of privacy.

4.9
Limited-time offer: Up to 67% off
Learn More
On NordVPN's website

NordVPN
  • High-quality VPN offering safety and speed
  • Loads of servers for multiple connection options
  • Works with popular streaming services, including Netflix
  • Too many confusing plans

Author Details
Ryan Clancy is a freelance writer and blogger. With 5+ years of mechanical engineering experience, he's passionate about all things engineering and tech. He loves bringing engineering (especially mechanical) down to a level that everyone can understand.