Since you're reading this, you've probably heard bad things about so-called 'cookies' and how you should delete cookies from your PC or laptop. We'll show you how to delete cookies but before you start, it's worth understanding a cookie's role and why you might actually want to keep it.
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Cookies store information about you and your preferences on your hard disk, and websites use this information for various purposes. Some cookies are beneficial because they save you from having to set your preferences each time you visit a website. For example, you might the currency on a shopping website from Euros to British Pounds. Without a cookie to store that information, you'd have to make that change each time you shopped on that site.
Some cookies store a lot more information, which some people might consider private and sensitive. Again, this could used to make your life easier, but if that information includes which websites you visited after looking at a previous site - thereby tracking you as you browse the web, then you probably don't want that on your computer.
Cookies can send data back to the webpages that you visit; and what the website (or owners of the site) do with this data is where the danger lies. This is why deleting your cookies and - to a lesser degree - your browsing history is a good thing to do periodically.
Again, you may not want to delete your history, since it's convenient to have your browser auto-complete website addresses as you begin typing, prioritising sites you've visited recently over search engine results. You might also like to search your history to find a page you forgot to bookmark weeks or months ago.
With this in mind, deleting your cookies and internet browsing history really very simple. We'll cover the four main web browsers here, and you'll need to follow the instructions for all the browsers you use, since they don't all share a common pool of cookies and websites you've visited.
How to delete cookies and browsing history: Microsoft Internet Explorer
Go to Tools (the cog icon at the top-right), and choose Internet Options. From here you will see a Browsing History heading halfway down the new window; click on Delete... A new window will pop up that will let you delete your cookies, history, temporary internet files, and form data too (this is typically your email, phone number, address and also passwords you've allowed your browser to save and use to fill out forms in the future).
In the latest version of Internet Explorer 11, there's an additional option: Preserve Favourites website data. This automatically keeps cookies and temporary files for your favourite websites, and is worth ticking unless you really want to delete everything.
How to delete cookies and browsing history: Google Chrome
Located to the top right of the Chrome window you will see an icon with three horizontal bars. Click on this and then select Settings from the list.
From here you need to select History from the left-hand column. Now click the Clear Browsing Data button and tick the Cookies box. Note that the drop-down box at the top lets you choose the time period. This is handy as you can (as Google says) obliterate data from the past hour, day, week, last 4 weeks or everything.
Depending on the options you tick in the list, you can use this duration to selectively delete cookies, browsing history or any other items from the list.
Chrome also lets you delete specific cookies. To do this, instead of clicking on History as described above, click on Settings and - if necessary - click Show advanced settings. In the Privacy section, click the Content settings button.
In the Cookies section you can delete and block specific cookies. To see the list of stored cookies, click the All cookies and site data... button.
There will probably be a long list, and it's an arduous task to go through them all to work out which to keep and which to delete, but it's possible if you want to keep cookies for your favourite sites.
How to delete cookies and browsing history on Firefox
Click on the Firefox drop-down menu located in the top-left of the main window, from here hover over History and chose Clear Recent History... from the menu that appears (or just press Ctrl-Shift-Del). This will bring up a new window that will let you delete your Cookies and Browsing history.
You don't get quite the extensive list of options as you do with Chrome, but the duration drop-down menu lets you choose from 1 hour, 2 hours, 4 hours, today or everything.
How to delete cookies and browsing history in Safari
Deleting your Cookies and browsing history on Apple's Safari is just as simple as the previous three browsers mentioned. Go to Menu bar > Safari > Reset Safari > Check the Remove all cookies and Clear history. Unfortunately, you can't choose a duration, so the process will remove all cookies and history when you click Reset.
That's how to delete cookies and browsing history on Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox and Safari.
See also How to get free online storage.