Web browsing history
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In computing, the web browsing history refers to the list of web pages a user has visited recently—and associated data such as page title and time of visit—which is recorded by web browser software as standard for a certain period of time. Web browser software does this in order to provide the user with a Back button and/or a History list, to go back to pages they have visited previously, rather than relying on the user to remember where they have been on the web.
In addition to the web browser software itself, third-party services can also record a user's web browsing history (completely or partially). For example, in Google Web History, the clicks of registered users are recorded and stored in individual user histories, each of which are browsable and searchable by that user (this is in addition to the click-tracking Google records for its own internal purposes, such as advertising click tracking). If the user installs the Google Toolbar, all pages that the user visits while logged into Google on that computer may be recorded as well. A potential benefit to the user is that they can review - and search through - all of their web browsing history on any computer, but this can have privacy implications.
Web browsing history is not published anywhere publicly by default, whether a user uses their own browser's history functionality or a third-party service, because this would have huge negative privacy implications and would reflect negatively on the reputation of a software or service provider who did such a thing.
Users may wish to remove browsing history data or stop it being collected (at least temporarily). They may want or need to do this to try and avoid other people who have full access to the computer they are using (such as their parents, spouse, or manager, or law enforcement officials) seeing confidential information about websites they have visited.
However, this alone will not necessarily give the user adequate privacy. Other factors may need to be considered, depending on the user's requirements. Such factors include the contents of the web browser cache, encryption of the data being transmitted over the network, and anonymity/traceability of the user's network connection.
The means by which a user can stop pages being recorded, and delete records of previously-browsed pages, depends on the product used. If a user is using a third-party product which may record search such as Google Search (see above), it may be necessary to remove or stop history collection in multiple places (e.g. in the browser and in Google Search settings).
Privacy of kept history data
Privacy on computer systems is intimately related to computer security: to the extent that a computer system can realistically be hacked into, the confidentiality of the information stored on it is compromised. Even when a computer system has been well programmed and contains few or no security bugs, security is only as strong as "the weakest link in the chain" (that is, the easiest part of the system to hack). This weakest link may be - and often is - something under the user's control, such as a password.
If a user has not disabled ("paused") Google's collection of Web History, and has a Google Account which they use, choosing a strong password for that account is important to prevent hackers gaining access to confidential data. (It is even important when the user has paused Web History on Google, because a hacker could unpause collection of Web History data without the user necessarily noticing.)
Likewise, if a user has not cleared their web browser history and has confidential sites listed there, they may want to use a strong password or other authentication solution for their user account on their computer, lock (i.e. password-protect) the computer when not in use, and/or encrypt the storage medium on which the web browser stores its history information (on a desktop computer or laptop computer, that is usually the hard drive or solid state drive).
Comparison of web browser history features
A new web browser announced in January 2016, Brave, intends to analyze the browsing history in order to target internet ads to its users.