If you share a computer at home or occasionally browse personal sites from a public computer like a library or at work, you might not want a record of your online activity stored on the computer.
For example, a pre-Christmas trip to Amazon would leave an easily-discovered set of clues for anyone that couldn't wait for Santa.
Whether it's targeted adverts that pop up showing products that you've recently shown an interest in, or an inquisitive partner looking for clues in your Internet History folder – digital footprints can spoil the surprise.
Fortunately, there are easy steps that let you go undercover.
Anonymous online browsing
Most browsers have a ‘hidden browsing’ mode that will stop the software from storing information about your surfing.
Internet Explorer includes anonymous browsing with InPrivate Browsing, activated via the browser’s Safety menu.
Google Chrome’s Incognito is in the main Tools menu, and Firefox’s Private Browsing is accessed from the main Firefox button at the top-left corner.
Private web searches
Private browser settings don't stop websites you visit collecting data on your surfing – they simply stop your browser recording it locally. This means that other users on your PC won't be able to see your search terms and browsing history, but this data is still being collected.
Google, for example, will still log your search terms and could associate them with your user account.
Alternative search engine DuckDuckGo doesn’t track your searches, helping to minimise your digital footprint.
Blocking behavioural adverts
Adverts that show items that are tailored specifically to you rely on cookies.
But from a private browsing point of view, it's worth noting that blocking third-party cookies from your computer can prevent copycat adverts from following you from site to site.
Clearing your browsing history
The history in your browser can be really useful - for example, if you've forgotten where you found a recipe you really liked - but can also be too revealing on shared computers.
Fortunately, all browsers have an option for clearing browsing history, either for the last day, or Since the beginning of time, as Google Chrome puts it. For Chrome, click on the top-right controls icon, then click History and choose what you want to delete.
In Internet Explorer, click Tools and then Delete Browsing History and choose the most suitable options.