How to delete your search history and maintain privacy with a virtual private network (VPN)

Most of us use search engines every day. But did you ever stop to wonder what happens to your search histories?

By law, internet service providers (ISPs) can sell your browsing histories.

If you value your privacy, then keep reading to learn how a VPN can help hide your IP (internet protocol) address, keeping your identity anonymous while you search the web.

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Can you truly clear your search history?

Whether you’re looking up something online or communicating via social media, you’re leaving digital footprints in the form of your browsing history, cookies, and cached data.

If you don’t want others seeing what you’ve been doing, a good first step is erasing this data whenever you close your browser.

To clear your search history, you can go to the tools menu in your search engine, select the history tab, and clear your browsing history. Browsers in the Windows operating system also have a keyboard shortcut, Control-Shift-Delete, that calls up a dialogue box allowing you to clear your browsing history.

What gets deleted? Sites you’ve visited, terms you searched for, cached images and other media content, cookies, a list of files you’ve downloaded from the web, and any data you’ve entered on forms.

Does deleting your web search history give you true privacy? No.

You’re removing the file references from your directories, but your operating system won’t simultaneously erase this data. It only moves the information to a special area on your PC’s hard drive.

That means any hacker or other third party could potentially recover these files using file recovery tools that are available for free on the web.

But that’s not all. Your IP address can still be collected while you’re browsing, which enables your ISP, the government, and other third parties to track what you search, visit, and download.

To address this, another best practice would be to use a reputable virtual private network (VPN), which can help hide your IP address and encrypt your traffic.

If you use a VPN, third parties will only be able to see the IP address of the remote VPN, which disables them from pinpointing your location and getting access to your browsing history for profiling, advertising, and tracking purposes.

Your search history isn’t private: A VPN can help

Without the right protection, your search history and other personal information could become public. A VPN can offer two key layers of protection.

One is privacy — by blocking websites, Internet browsers, cable companies, ISPs, and others from tracking your data and browsing history.

The other is security — by protecting you from those trying to access and capture your personal information and other data.

A VPN can not only can hide your real IP address and location, but also encrypt the personal information you send and receive across a public or shared network to help maintain your privacy and security.

This VPN protection could be particularly important now because ISPs do not necessarily need your consent before sharing — and selling — your browsing data and app activity.

Abiding by the rules, ISPs will let you opt out of policies that collect non-sensitive information to market to third parties. But they may not necessarily give you this opt-in consent with regard to using your data for first-party marketing.

While an ISP may not be able to use sensitive data to identify you, they can still create a consumer profile of you and sell that profile to advertisers, which leaves you vulnerable to being targeted with ads.

ISPs track things like the websites you visit, content you view, the device you use, and your location. ISPs can create consumer profiles that let companies know how best to target you with their message.

This gives ISPs a lot of power, because, unlike Google, an ISP knows your location by default. Pairing this with the other data gives them a lot of information to sell.
It’s a good idead to stay current with your own ISP’s privacy rules and updates — and opt out whenever you can.

What does a VPN hide?

Even if you use a private browsing mode, your IP information can still be collected. A VPN can help hide most of your online activities, most notably your IP address and location.

How? With a VPN, your online activities are anonymized and protected because the VPN masks your IP address and encrypts your data throughout the transmission. Some VPNs offer military grade 256-bit encryption.

Instead of sending information directly from your IP address, by using a VPN service, the VPN server’s IP address is the one associated with your activity. If your VPN service provider has servers around the world, you could appear to be connecting to the Internet from Berlin when you’re actually in Mumbai.

A special anonymization service like Tor, or “The Onion Router,” also can help by sending your encrypted and re-encrypted data through several random nodes on the internet, creating a circuitous route.

It’s similar to how you might try to throw someone off your trail in a game of hide-and-go-seek — by taking a hard-to-follow route and erasing your footprints.

Because the various nodes only know the IP address from the node before and after, none of the nodes knows the complete pathway the data takes.

Plus, each completed pathway is only valid for 10 minutes, and then Tor generates new random paths. However, your data is not encrypted at the exit node.

What’s an IP address?

What role does your IP address play in identifying your location?

Every computer has an IP, which is a unique address that identifies your device on the Internet or a local network. An IP is like a cyberspace mailing address, telling other computers where to deliver the data you seek.

What information can you get from an IP address?

Why is protecting your IP address so critical? Another’s knowledge of your IP address can leave you vulnerable, because it’s the key data that connects you to your location, ISP, and web search history.

To start, your IP address can share sensitive information about you that includes your physical location: city, state, ZIP code, and country. And it’s specific. Your IP address at home will be different than your IP address at your local coffee shop.

Your IP address also can be traced back to your ISP, which can then reveal more data, including information like your name, home address, phone number, credit card number, and browsing history.

As well as leaving you with a lack of privacy, third parties such as companies, ISPs, and cyberthieves could sell this sensitive information to others, who may use it for advertising or illegal activities such as financial fraud and identity theft.

What other information does a VPN hide?

When you surf the web, web browsers store that data and can use it to tailor your future search results. A reputable VPN can make tracking your online activities and gathering your data more difficult by hiding your IP address and encrypting your network traffic.

A VPN also can hide other types of information that would put your privacy at risk. Here’s a look at some of the other benefits of using a VPN.

Browsing habits

You can clear your cookies and search history from your browser, but chances are your information has already been recorded by your ISP or the websites you’ve visited. In addition to masking your IP, a VPN can hide what you do in your browser, including the search terms you enter on Google and the URLs you type in, and the websites you visit.

Online interactions and activities

A VPN also can hide when you log in to your social media accounts, video game plays, interactions with standalone apps, streaming activities, and files you download.

Medical diagnosis and health conditions

If you’re worried about a medical diagnosis, you might search the web for more information. If you don’t want anyone knowing your healthcare information or maladies, or sharing information about you, a VPN can help keep your identity and your searches and downloads private.

Travel accommodations

Trying to find the best online deal on an airline ticket? Third parties like airlines associate the information you’re researching with your IP address, which essentially identifies you and your location much as a return address does. When you go back to that airline multiple times to find better deals, you likely already will be locked into a price by cookies. They already know who you are and what you’re after, so you likely won’t get that deal you’ve been searching for.


One side benefit of using a VPN is known as geo-spoofing, which means fooling websites and other online services into thinking you’re in one location such as the United States, when you’re really in China. This could provide a way around a country’s censorship, access geo-restricted services, or save money while doing online shopping. But remember to always check your service agreement rules and observe government laws and regulations.

Personally identifiable material

A VPN can hide your online identity by masking your IP address, therefore hiding your location and encrypting your data, which can help protect your PII. Without this protection, third parties or cybercriminals could gain access to data carriers like audio files, messages and passwords, which could then reveal personal information like your name, address, credit card information, or bank accounts.

How Norton Secure VPN can help ensure your search history is secure

A reputable VPN can help protect your online privacy. Consider a service like Norton™ Secure VPN, which provides powerful protection by helping secure private data that includes your passwords, bank details, and credit card information while you’re on your PC, Mac or any mobile device.

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