How can I keep my internet browsing history secret? I'm sick of having to delete it at the end of every surfing session so that my wife doesn't discover the, er, anniversary present I've been researching online.

Private web browsing is an important technique to learn in the modern age. Many of us share our Apple Macs with other people, and you don't want to worry about any embarrassing websites you've been looking at online being discovered.

Knowing how to browse the internet in private mode is especially important thanks to new Safari features such as Top Sites, Frequently Visited and the Smart Search Field. These all automatically display your web browsing history as you use the Safari web browser. Apple's iCloud syncs this information between your Apple devices, so if you look at a website on your Mac it could pop up when somebody uses your iPhone or iPad.

Even if you trust people not to bother searching through your history, they could still accidentally discover what you've been looking at, just by using Safari on your Mac, iPad or iPhone.

And if you are really concerned that someone might get hold of your browsing history you may be concerned to learn that reports emerged in February that Apple hadn't been removing deleted Safari web histories from iCloud.

According to ElcomSoft, while the data may disappear from Apple devices, it has been found on iCloud and it is easily recoverable. Vladimir Katalov of ElcomSoft said: "We discovered that deleting a browsing history record makes that record disappear from synced devices; however, the record still remains available (but invisible) in iCloud..." He added in a blog post: "We were able to pull additional information about Safari history entries including the exact date and time each record was last visited and deleted!"

This data should be secure as your iCloud account is protected by your password, and can only be accessed with that password. However, if criminals were to access your password they could theoretically also discover your browsing history. Since ElcomSoft posted the blog Apple appears to have set about fixing the issue.

In this feature we're going to show you how to turn on private browsing mode on your Mac, iPhone and iPad. It's your privacy, and you're entitled to it.

See also:

How to keep browsing history secret on Mac and iOS: Guide to private browsing and when to browse privately

Apple has included private browsing as a feature in OS X and iOS since Safari 5.1 (in OS X Lion) and iOS 5. The standard example given by most companies is that it could be used when shopping online for a present you want to keep secret, such as an engagement ring.

Of course, there are some websites - like NHS Direct - that offers advice on personal medical matters that you might want to keep private.

All of this is true. But we're all adults and some adults like to visit adult sites. And they don't want other adults - and certainly not children - to know about these sites. This is what private browsing was made for. If you are looking at a website and you'd rather keep it to yourself, then you should turn on private browsing before visiting the website.

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How to keep browsing history secret on Mac and iOS: How to turn on private browsing in iOS (on iPad, iPhone and iPod touch)

Turn on private browsing in iOS

Here is how to turn on private browsing in iOS:

  1. Open Safari.
  2. Tap the Pages icon (shaped as two squares).
  3. Tap Private.

You will now be in private browsing mode.  An alert tells you that Safari won't remember the pages you visit, your search history, or AutoFill information. Tap the Search field to search for a website, or the Add icon to browse from your bookmarks.

When in Private Browsing mode the Menu bar and Smart Search Field in Safari will be a dark grey colour. Tap Pages and Private again to turn off Private Browsing Mode.

How to keep browsing history secret on Mac and iOS: How to turn on private browsing in Mac OS X

Turn on private browsing in OS X

Here is how to turn Private Browsing mode on using Mac OS X:

  1. Open the Safari web browser:
  2. Choose File > New Private Window (Command-Shift-N).

You will now be viewing a window in private browsing mode. OS X will not remember any website history from the websites you visit, or any of your search history. It's important to know that this only applies to this window that you have opened. You can tell it is a private window because the Smart Search Field will be a dark grey colour.

If you open another window, using the regular File > New Window  (Command-N), then it will not be a private browsing window. So be careful to use just the private window(s) for your browsing session.

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How to keep browsing history secret on Mac and iOS: User poll