Every time you run a search online, the websites where you maintain an account can record that information. This data—collected and stored by search engines like Google, social media networks like Facebook, and retail giants like Amazon—won’t disappear when you erase your browser’s search history.
Ostensibly, these sites use your search history to assemble a profile of you, allowing them to show you content or products that will appeal to your interests. Conveniently for these tech companies, better understanding your preferences also lets them serve you targeted advertisements. On the bright side, a service can only collect this information while you’re logged into your account for that site. Still, if you’re uncomfortable with this record of your past searches, or you don’t want them to influence your future browsing (maybe you’ve run a lot of queries for camping accessories but no longer want to see ads for related products), you can scrub them from existence.
To do so, you’ll have to go through your accounts one by one. Here’s how to purge your search history on some of the biggest and most popular search engines, social media networks, and retail websites.
When you search for something in one of Google’s services—which include email, mapping, calendars, messaging, file storage, video, and more—the service logs all of that information. Your search history helps the tech company tailor your search results. For example, if you rarely look up sports-related terms, a new search for “dolphins” is more likely to relate to the aquatic mammals rather than Miami’s NFL team. Your data also tells Google which ads are more likely to get you to click.
To erase this information, head to Google’s My Account page and log in. Among the many options, you’ll find pages on account privacy, data logging, and security. Find Data & personalization, then click My Activity. Here, you can view your activity history, which appears on a separate page for each Google product. For example, one page lets you view your search engine history, another displays YouTube searches, and you can even check out your spoken Google Home queries.
Pick one of these categories—we recommend that you start with the main Google activity page, which should be the one you land on after hitting My Activity. Next, highlight the results you’d like to erase and click the menu button (three dots) to the top right of the list. Finally, hit Delete results. When a confirmation screen pops up, click Delete again, and Google will erase the information you’ve highlighted. To delete individual entries, look for the smaller menu buttons next to each item on the list. From this menu, you can delete an entry directly.
Not everyone relies on Google to search the web. If you use Microsoft’s Bing search engine instead, you can still clear your history.
First, head to the website and click Sign in. Then click the menu button (three horizontal lines) on the top right, followed by Search history and then View and delete search history. This will take you to a new privacy page on the Microsoft website. Click View and clear search history, Clear activity, and then Clear. If you’d rather remove entries from the list one by one, click on any individual Delete button.
This page also lets Microsoft Edge users delete their web browser history. Microsoft stores your browsing history online, as well as within the Edge application on your computer, to make it easier to sync your activity across multiple devices. To erase this information as well, go back to the main menu, select Browse from the list on the left, and then hit Clear activity followed by Clear.
While you’re poking around Facebook, you may search for a page that interests you, a friend’s name, or an event. To view all of your recent queries, open the Facebook website and click on the search box at the top of the page. If you’d like to erase these searches, click the Edit button to the right of the results.
This will bring up a screen that shows a complete log of everything you’ve ever looked up on Facebook. To remove one entry, click the Edit icon (the no-entry symbol) on the right of the entry, then choose Delete and confirm by hitting Remove Search.
To blitz everything in your Facebook search history at once, click Clear Searches on the top right. Then confirm by choosing Clear Searches again on the pop-up window that appears. This will erase all your past queries from Facebook’s servers.
Like Facebook, Twitter records your recent searches so you can easily access them again. It also lets you delete them.
Visit the Twitter website and click the Search Twitter box at the top of the page. This will pull up your most recent queries, as well as your saved searches—keywords you’ve told Twitter to save in case you want to run them multiple times. To save a current search, click the three vertical dots to its right and hit Save this search.
However, if you’d prefer to clear your searches, the process is easy. Simply click the X button to the right of any recent or saved search to remove it from the list, no confirmation screen needed. To erase all recent searches in one go, click Clear All. However, this only deletes your recently-run searches—your saved searches will remain untouched.
Unlike the other sites on this list, Amazon doesn’t keep a log of your search terms—at least, not one you can scroll through and examine. Instead, it records every item you look at on the site. This record influences your recommendations, as well as the ads that appear.
To see everything you’ve clicked on the site, head to the Amazon website, look at the toolbar at the top of the page, and click Browsing History followed by Your Browsing History. The results will appear in reverse chronological order, from the most recent to the oldest.
Now, to erase them. Click Remove next to any item to, well, remove it. This can help you get rid of one-off purchases that you don’t want to receive any more ads about. You can also go nuclear and clear everything at once: Click Manage history followed by Remove all items. When the confirmation screen appears, choose Remove all items again.
If you’d prefer to have Amazon stop tracking your browsing history, look under the Manage history heading. Then turn off the toggle switch.