We have a range of information to give you tips about keeping safe from abuse and monitoring of your activity while using the internet. This applies when you’re using PCs and laptops, as well as smartphones and tablets.
The first thing to note is there’s no way to completely cover your movements online.
The only way to be sure that your online activities can’t be monitored is to use a computer that only you have access to. For example, you could use a PC at a local library, internet cafe, at a friend's house or at work.
Abusers can see the history of sites you've visited easily
You don't have to be a computer expert to track someone's movements online. Internet browsers save certain information about the sites you visit as you surf the internet. This includes images from websites, words entered into search engines and a trail (history) that reveals the sites you have visited. Below is some information about how to minimise the chance of someone finding out that you have visited websites, including this site.
- How can an abuser see your internet activities?
Spyware is becoming very easy to buy and install on home computers and mobile phones. You may think that you’re safe to access a home computer but what you’re doing may be tracked using spyware. Find out more about cyberstalking.
- Warning about deleting cookies and address histories
It's important to say that there’s a risk involved in removing data from your computer. For instance, if your partner uses online banking and has a saved password, then if you clear the cookies on your PC, your partner may realise you've done so because their password will no longer be saved.
Your partner may also notice if the address history on the PC has been cleared - this may raise suspicion. On all browsers you will have a tab called History or Favourites where you can select individual websites to delete. Other traces of the sites (eg cookies and passwords) may not be deleted. One way to reduce the risk of removing your browser history is to use Private Browsing (see below). However, the safest way to avoid your internet activity being tracked is to use a different computer.
- Private Browsing
Private Browsing (called different names on different web browsers) is a tool that prevents websites from saving any data which may leave a trail such as cookies, history or other data created or saved when you visit the site. Your browsing history for that session will also be deleted when you close the window. This isn’t to be confused with Private Filtering which has another function and will not stop abusers from seeing internet trails.
Generally, private browsing can be activated in the browser’s tool bar. This will open a new window so remember only to use this window for your browsing session, and make sure you close it! Leaving this window open will alert abusers that you’re concerned you are being tracked.
Even though it helps, Private Browsing is not entirely safe and there are some programmes that can recover deleted files. A determined person could still find traces of your internet visits if they read enough tips online. Again, the only safe way is to use a computer your abuser can’t access.
- Stored passwords
Browsers can store passwords to save you time, but these can also be used by someone to access your account. When you first use a password on a site you will be asked if you want the browser to remember it - click ‘no’ or browse in Private Mode.
However, accidents happen and you may accidentally allow a password to be saved. You can delete saved passwords either as part of your history removal or separately. Remember that removing all passwords may look suspicious if you share a computer.
- Search toolbar
If you have them installed, search toolbars such as Google, AOL and Yahoo keep a record of the search words you type into the toolbar search box. To erase all the search words you type in, you’ll need to check the individual instructions for each type of toolbar. For example, for the Google toolbar all you need to do is click on the Google icon and choose ‘Clear Search History’.
- Deleting history and cookies
If you know which browser you’re using, find out how to delete your browser history and cookies in the relevant section below:
How do I know which browser I'm using?
If you don’t know which web browser you’re using, click on Help on the toolbar at the top of the browser screen. A drop down menu will appear and the last entry will say ‘About Internet Explorer’, ‘About Mozilla Firefox’ or something similar. This tells you which browser you’re using.
Click on the Tools menu (press the Alt key to reveal the tools menu if it’s hidden) and select Internet Options. In the General page under Browsing History, select Delete. Either select and delete each section: Temporary internet files; Cookies; History; Forms data; and Passwords. Alternatively, to clear everything select Delete All.
Click on Tools and Options. Firefox bundles cookies, forms and history under the heading ‘History’. Click the Privacy tab, then on “Clear your recent history”. Select the period you want to delete. Click on Details to select cookies, forms etc. To delete passwords, click on the Security tab where you can view all the passwords saved when you browse the web. You can delete them here - remember to not allow Firefox to save them in the future.
In Firefox you (or someone accessing your computer) can actually read the passwords saved on your system. If you use the same passwords for many sites, consider changing them all if you have allowed your browser to save any passwords.
You can also change how you want Firefox to store your data under the Privacy tab.
To remove your internet history, go to History and click Clear History. To remove cookies go to Settings (right hand side), Preferences, Privacy tab and click Remove All Website Data (or Details to select certain sites).
Chrome and other browsers
There are many new browsers on the market, we’d advise you to look for advice about your own browser.
If an abuser sends you threatening or harassing emails, they may be printed and saved as evidence of this abuse. Be aware of how records of your emails can be accessed:
- Any email you have previously sent will be stored as Sent Items. Go to your Sent Items mailbox and delete emails you don't want someone to see
- If you started an email but didn't finish it, it might be in your Drafts Folder. Go to the Draft Folder to delete it
- If you reply to any email, the original message will probably be in the body of the message. Delete the email if you don’t want anyone to see your original message.
- When you delete an item in any email programme (Outlook Express, Outlook, Thunderbird etc) it doesn’t really delete the item. The email is moved to a folder called Deleted Items. You have to delete the email in Deleted Items to remove them completely
- If there's a risk that your abuser may know how to access your emails, it's a good idea to set up a new email account. Use a provider like Hotmail or Yahoo for an account you can access from anywhere, and use a name that is not recognisable as you, for example firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep this email secret.
- General security
If you don’t use a password to log onto your computer, someone else will be able to access your email and track your internet usage by simply looking at your computer. The safest way to find information on the internet would be at a local library, a friend's house, or at work.
If you do use a password to log onto your computer, make sure it's one that someone who knows you can't guess, such as your pet or birthdate. Make sure you change it regularly.