What Happens to Temporary Internet Files Viewed in Private?

By Aaron Charles

Private browsing modes can cover your Web surfing tracks.
i Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Your privacy on your personal computer might not be as private as you think, and most likely the temporary Internet files that you've viewed aren't as temporary as you believe. What happens to these files depends on your browser settings and how your computer's connected to the Internet. You can control what happens to temporary Internet files in your browser.


Viewing files in private could mean multiple things. If "in private" refers to a private workstation at a business office or private computer linked to a network, then privacy is limited to the physical location only. You might view files in private, but the computer itself is a part of a broader network that's likely controlled by network administrators and not yourself. In such cases, what happens to temporary Internet files depends on the settings that network administrators have put in place.


Temporary Internet files work so that when you view a file on a website, such as an image or document file, your browser downloads the file to a Temporary Internet Files or Cache folder. Then the next time you visit that Web page your browser accesses the files stored in cache instead of downloading them again from the Internet. By default, these files aren't really temporary but stay in cache until you delete them. But if your browser has a private mode, no files you view will remain in cache after you close your browser. Internet Explorer's private browsing feature is called InPrivate, Firefox's Private Browsing, and Chrome's is Incognito.


You can open your cache folder yourself and view all the temporary Internet files that your browser has downloaded. But you won't see any files your browser accessed while in private mode. To view your cache files for Internet Explorer, open the Control Panel and then open the "Network and Internet Connections" and "Internet Options" sections. To open your cache for Firefox or Chrome, type "about:cache" in the browser's address bar and press "Enter."


If you find that there are files in your cache that you want to disappear, you can delete individual files or empty the entire temporary Internet files folder. Access your browser's "Tools" or "Settings" menus and select "Clear history," "Clear browsing data" or something similar. To ensure that files that you want kept private aren't saved in your cache in the future, you'll need to browse the Web in your browser's private mode.