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Manage your browser's Auto-Complete to secure private data

How to stop your web browser giving away your secrets

Auto-Complete is a useful web browser feature - it records information you put into fields in web forms, then fills in forms on the fly. It can be a great time saver when uploading your address to an online retailer, or typing out an email address to send a message. But as with so many online conveniences it also creates security risks: if someone else gets on to your PC or laptop they can quickly see your personal details. Our Helproom Editor explains how to manage Auto-Complete.

QUESTION The address field is often empty when I go to sign into Hotmail. If I click in this field, a drop-down list of all the email addresses ever entered here appears. This saves me time, but it isn't ideal from a security viewpoint. I can't see an entry in the settings menu to switch off this history. Can you help, please? Frybluff

HELPROOM ANSWER This sort of information is filled in by your web browser's Auto-Complete function. How you manage this function will depend on the browser you're using. Using Internet Explorer as an example, press the Alt button to bring up the File menu (if it isn't visible) and click Tools, Internet Options. Select the Content tab and click the Settings button in the section marked AutoComplete.

In here are various options for which types of data you would like the browser to present Auto-Complete suggestions. You can turn off any you don't want to use to improve your security. Turning off Forms should disable the function you mention. You can also delete previous Auto-Complete information by clicking the button marked ‘Delete AutoComplete history…'.

Another option is to use an application such as CCleaner.

This allows you to simultaneously delete Auto-Complete history and many other types of saved data across multiple browsers. Look on the Windows tab for Internet Explorer, then enable ‘Autocomplete Form History'. Also select ‘Saved Form Information' on the Applications tab for any other web browsers you may use. This information will be deleted when you click Run Cleaner. Note that this will also delete other saved form data you may have stored.

When you compose a new message in Hotmail and enter the email address of your recipient, a similar Auto-Complete function helps you to fill in their contact details.

This information isn't stored on your computer by your browser – it comes from Hotmail itself. This can be problematic if Hotmail suggests the wrong recipient or misspells their email address following a previous incorrect entry. You can't turn off this function entirely, but you can change the settings so that it suggests only the email addresses for recipients stored in your Hotmail contacts list.

Click Options, then choose More Options from the drop-down menu. Find the section labelled Customising Hotmail and click ‘Advanced privacy settings'. Two configuration options are given for Auto-Complete suggestions, with the second restricting suggestions to people you've explicitly added to your contacts list.

See all How to articles. Get free tech support in the Helproom Forum.

Visit Windows 7 Advisor for more Windows advice.

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