How to Manage History and Other Browsing Data on Your iPhone

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iPhone History, Cache and Cookies

iphone browsing data
Getty Images (Daniel Grizelj #538898303)

This tutorial is only intended for users running the Safari Web browser on Apple iPhone devices.

Apple's Safari browser, the default option on the iPhone, behaves like most browsers when it comes to storing private data on the device's hard drive. Items such as browsing history, cache and cookies are saved on your iPhone while you surf the Web, utilized in a number of different ways to improve your browsing experience.

These private data components, while offering conveniences such as faster load times and auto-populated forms, can also be sensitive in nature. Whether it be the password for your Gmail account or the information for your favorite credit card, much of the data left behind at the end of your browsing session could potentially be harmful if found in the wrong hands. In addition to the inherent security risk, there are also privacy issues to consider. Taking all of this into account, it is imperative that you have a good understanding of what this data is comprised of and how it can be viewed and manipulated on your iPhone. This tutorial defines each item in detail, and walks you through the process of both managing and deleting them.

It is recommended that Safari be shut down prior to deleting some of its private data components. For more information, visit our How to Kill iPhone Apps tutorial.

Tap the Settings icon to get started, located on your iPhone Home Screen. iPhone's Settings interface should now be displayed. Scroll down and select the item labeled Safari.

Clear Browsing History and Other Private Data

Safari's Settings should now be shown. Scroll to the bottom of this page until the Clear History and Website Data option becomes visible.

Your browsing history is essentially a log of the Web pages that you have previously visited, helpful when you want to return to these sites in the future. However, you may on occasion have the desire to completely remove this history from your iPhone.

This option also deletes cache, cookies and other browsing-related data from your iPhone. Cache is comprised of locally stored Web page components such as images, used to speed up load times in future browsing sessions. Autofill information, meanwhile, includes form data such as your name, address and credit card numbers.

If the Clear History and Website Data link is blue, that indicates that Safari has some past browsing history and other data components stored. If the link is gray, on the other hand, then there are no records or files to delete. To clear your browsing data you must first select this button.

A message will now appear, asking if you want to continue with the permanent process of deleting Safari's history and additional browsing data. To commit to the deletion select the Clear History and Data button.

Block Cookies

Cookies are placed on your iPhone by most websites, used in some cases to store login information as well as provide a customized experience on subsequent visits.

Apple has taken a more proactive approach to cookies in iOS, blocking those originating from an advertiser or other third-party website by default. To modify this behavior, you must first return to Safari's Settings interface. Next, locate the PRIVACY & SECURITY section and select the Block Cookies option.

The Block Cookies screen should now be displayed. The active setting, accompanied by a blue check mark, can be modified by selecting one of the other available options defined below.

  • Always Block: When selected, Safari will never accept cookies. Enabling this option may result in a poor browsing experience on many websites.
  • Allow from Current Website Only: Intended to be used as a temporary setting, this will allow the active Web page to push cookies to your iPhone.
  • Allow from Websites I Visit: When selected, Safari will only allow cookies from sites that you explicitly visit and not from third-party advertisers or other domains.
  • Allows Allow: Safari will never block cookies from any website. Enabling this setting can prove risky, as third-party servers will be allowed to store cookies on your iPhone.

Deleting Data From Specific Websites

Up to this point I have described how to delete all of Safari's saved browsing history, cache, cookies, and other data. These methods are perfect if your goal is to remove these private data items in their entirety. If you want to clear data saved by specific websites only, however, Safari for iOS provides an interface to do just that.

Return to Safari's Settings screen and select the Advanced option. Safari's Advanced Settings interface should now be displayed. Select the option labeled Website Data.

Safari's Website Data interface should now be visible, displaying the overall size of all private data files stored on your iPhone as well as a breakdown for each website.

To delete data for an individual site, you must first select the Edit button found in the upper right-hand corner. Each website in the list should now have a red and white circle located to the left of its name. To delete cache, cookies and other website data for a particular site, select this circle. Tap the Delete button to complete the process.