How to Delete Browsing Data Completely From Your Hard Drive
By Josh Fredman
If you want to keep your browsing history private, you can achieve relatively effective results by deleting the history files on your computer and installing software to block online trackers from collecting that information remotely. However, deleting files on your computer doesn't actually delete the contents inside the files; rather, it deletes only the file structure. With advanced data recovery techniques, a trained technician could recover significant quantities of your personal data. To absolutely, permanently erase the browsing history on your computer, you must also overwrite the data on your hard drive.
Delete Browsing History Files
Delete your Web browsing history inside the browser control panel. From Internet Explorer, click on the "Tools" button and select "Internet Options." Under the "General" tab in the "Browsing History" section, click on the "Delete" button. Click the check box next to each type of data you want to erase, and, if you want, leave the check box marked "Preserve Favorites Website Data." Then click "OK" to initiate the deletion, and "OK" again to close Internet Options.
Flush your DNS cache using a Windows command prompt. The DNS cache stores the IP addresses of websites that you have viewed. Swipe in on your Windows desktop and select "All Apps." Go to "Windows System" and right-click or press and hold "Command Prompt," and then choose the "Run as Administrator" option. Next, left-click or press on "Command Prompt" to launch the administrator-level command prompt. Type "ipconfig /flushdns" without the quotation marks and press "Enter."
Install and enable an online third-party tracking blocker to prevent companies from remotely collecting data on your browsing patterns. Some of your options here include Piriform CCleaner, MAXA Cookie Manager and DoNotTrackMe. See the Resources section for links.
Permanently Erase Browsing Data
Back up any personal data that you don't want to lose onto a disc, external hard drive or flash drive.
Download and install a hard drive erasure program. Some free choices include Secure Erase, KillDisk and Eraser. Some of these programs also allow targeted erasure, so that you don't have to wipe the entire drive.
Choose the method of data overwriting you want to use. The popular U.S. Department of Defense method will randomly generate nonsense data and completely overwrite your hard drive seven times. The even more secure Gutmann method overwrites the hard drive 35 times. The reason for multiple overwrites is that advanced data recovery methods can sometimes sniff out the patterns behind a single overwrite.
Items you will need
OS installation or boot disc
Hard drive erasure software
If you use other Web browsers besides or in addition to Internet Explorer, you must delete your browsing history in each browser individually. See the links in the Resources Section for information on how to do this in Chrome and Firefox.
Don't delete the files using conventional techniques before wiping your hard drive. Leaving them intact can help your hard drive erasure program target which specific areas of the drive you want to erase, if not the entire thing.
In some cases, federal and state laws require companies to destroy user data on their computers, and can impose serious criminal penalties on companies that fail to do so properly. For user data deletion, you must use hard drive overwriting techniques or else physically destroy the hard drives by opening the casing and smashing or incinerating the disks.
Josh Fredman is a freelance pen-for-hire and Web developer living in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, studying engineering, and worked in logistics, health care and newspapers before deciding to go to work for himself.