Ever gone to Google or another search engine using the Internet Explorer browser and noticed that some past searches you've performed were displayed below the search box? Don't blame (or thank) the search engine. It's your browser that's keeping the record, and it's one you may find yourself wishing to delete, from time to time.
For example, I had one reader who looked up the word "sex" on Google. She was then concerned that when she went back to Google, this word appeared in her past searches list. That means anyone using her computer would see that this was something she'd searched for.
Fortunately, deleting your past searches is easily done. To understand, let's first cover how to access the past searches or search history list, using Google as an example.
Assuming you've got Internet Explorer's AutoComplete on and have searched at Google before, you should be able to click once in the Google search box and get a "drop down" box to appear, listing all the things you've searched for in the past at Google. (Alternatively, you can start typing a query, and you'll be shown any queries that contain the first letters that you've typed.)
Now let's say in the drop down list of past searches is a particular query that you want to remove. Use the arrow keys on your computer keyboard to highlight the particular entry. Alternatively, highlight the entry using your mouse but don't click on it! Next, once the entry has been highlighted, push the "Delete" button on your computer keyword. The entry should disappear.
There's also a method to remove all your past searches, in one go. Of course, if you do this, you'll also delete any other form-based information that Internet Explorer may have saved.
To do this, in Internet Explorer 5 or higher, select "Tools" from the menu, then "Internet Options" and then choose the "Content" tab. Next, look for the button at the bottom that says "AutoComplete." Click on the button which will make the AutoComplete Settings window appear. In it, click on the "Clear Forms" button to delete all your stored form entries.
By the way, I personally find AutoComplete very handy for dealing with all the forms I encounter on the web. If you aren't using it and want it, follow the steps above to get the AutoComplete Settings window. Then, checked the boxes under "Use AutoComplete For" to start having information saved.
Now here's a tricky bit. Let's assume again that you use Google on a regular basis. If so, you can see all your past searches there via the drop down box that I mentioned below. Now head over to AllTheWeb.com. You can see exactly the same list, even if you've never used AllTheWeb.com before.
Next, go over to Yahoo. Now, you'll either see no past searches list or, if you've used Yahoo before, you'll see a list that's different than that shown at Google. What's going on?
Every time you fill out a form box, AutoComplete looks behind the scenes at the HTML code of the box to see what its hidden "name" is. At Google, the big search box on the home page has a hidden name of "q." AllTheWeb gives its search box the same name, so that's why you see all the same searches shown there as you see at Google.
In fact, any time you use a form that has the hidden name of q, your search will be added to the list of possible entries for boxes with the hidden name of q, regardless of what search engine you use.
As for Yahoo, it has named its search box "p," which is why you see a different list of terms shown there.
Ideally, if the search engines all agreed to use the same name for their search boxes, then all your past queries would be saved in one list. That's not likely to happen, and it also means that if you've done an embarrassing search at multiple search engines, then clearing out ALL your form-saved data is probably the safest way to cover your tracks, rather than the highlight-and-delete method I've also described.
Finally, if you are a Google Toolbar user, the techniques above won't work to remove your past searches from the toolbar. Instead, you'll need to click on the Google logo next to the Google Toolbar's search box, then choose "Clear Search History" from the drop-down box that appears.
Working with Internet Explorer's AutoComplete
More details from HTMLGoodies.com on how AutoComplete works, especially helpful for web authors that want to take advantage of the capability to help their users.
What is autocomplete?
Even more technical details for developers, from Technofundo.
Advice on AutoComplete for developers, from Microsoft.