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Who can see what you search for on the internet?

Whichever search engine or social media platform you use for your internet searches – Google, Bing, TikTok, or Twitter – your search and browsing history might be visible to others. Find out who can see what you search for on the internet and why they would want to know this information.

Who can see what you search for on the internet?

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Can anyone see what you search for on Google?

If you’ve wondered “Can anyone see my search history?”, the answer is yes. The search engine itself, your web browser, your internet service provider (ISP), some advertisers, website owners, app owners, and, in some cases, authorities can see what you search for on Google.

But keep in mind that Google employs HTTPS to encrypt your searches, so your ISP will not see your exact search queries – only the domain names of the websites you visit by clicking the search results. In other words, your ISP can only see your internet browsing history, not your search history.

If you’re using a shared or public computer, anyone who uses it after you might check what you’ve searched for on Google if you don’t log out, clear your search history, or use the Incognito mode.

It’s a similar situation with your search history on your phone. Here is a list of who can see what you search for on your phone:

  • Google can access your search history, especially if you’re signed in to your Google account.
  • Internet service providers can see the domain names of the websites you visit.
  • Some apps on your phone might ask permission to access your internet browsing history. If you grant it, they’ll be able to view it.
  • Websites you visit can track your activity on their own sites through cookies and other tracking tools.
  • Advertisers may collect data about your online activity across multiple sites for targeted advertising and analytics.
  • In some cases, government agencies may have the legal authority to request access to your internet search history as part of their investigations.

Search history vs. browsing history

The terms “search history” and “browsing history” are often used interchangeably but they mean slightly different things. Let’s clear that up.

Search history refers to a record of searches you conduct using a search engine, like Google or Bing, while browsing history encompasses all web pages that you visit during a browsing session, including those you access directly without a search engine.

For example, you can access a web page by entering the URL in the address bar of your web browser or by following hyperlinks on other websites. Essentially, search history tracks searches, while browsing history tracks the specific web pages you visit.

Why do they need to know what you search for on the internet?

If the question “Who can see my search history?” has been on your mind lately, you’ve probably also wondered why these entities need to know what you search for on the internet. Is knowing about your online activity a breach of your online privacy?

Here is why your internet history can be important or valuable to those who can see it:

  • Search engines track what you search for to personalize search results based on what you’ve searched before and tailor ads to your interests. By collecting their clients’ browsing data, search engines analyze trends, improve search algorithms, and introduce new features.
  • Internet service providers. Some internet service providers track their clients’ web browsing data and send its anonymized version to advertisers. The law also requires ISPs to track and retain this data for a certain period of time.
  • Websites also track your visits and interactions to personalize your experience and show targeted ads. They do it by using cookies and web analytics tools.
  • Apps ask for permission to track you upon bootup or when using certain features. Most apps need at least storage permission but some will ask to access your browsing history, media files, or location.
  • Wi-Fi network administrators might track your online activity to ensure you comply with its policies, to maintain network security, and prevent inappropriate or illegal use of their network.
  • Hackers would love to get their hands on your browsing history because it might help them to piece together your online identity and get them one step closer to identity theft or impersonating you online. If you accidentally download malicious software planted by hackers, it can track your online behavior and steal sensitive information directly from your device.
  • Law enforcement agencies are usually required to obtain a court order or warrant to access an individual’s search or browsing history and data. They might need this information for criminal investigations and might even obligate your ISP to disclose it. However, even law enforcement can’t track your browsing data without a probable cause.

Overall, tracking your search or browsing history is not illegal if it’s in the policies of the entity which services you use or if you’ve granted the permission to be tracked by accepting cookies or privacy policy agreements. So make sure to check out our article on the best browsers for privacy to reduce your chances of having your browser history tracked.

Can someone see your browsing history on another device?

Typically no one can see your browser history on another device unless you’ve taken action to share that information. Here’s how someone can access your browsing history on your phone or computer:

  • Using your device and web browser. If someone gains physical access to your computer or phone and uses the same browser you use, they may be able to see your browsing activity.
  • Having shared accounts. If you’re logged into the same Google account on multiple devices, your search history will sync across those devices. If someone has access to the same account, they will be able to view your history on another device.
  • Using remote monitoring tools. You might need to install a remote monitoring tool for technical support or work tasks, but remember to uninstall the tool once you resolve the issues to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Browsing on a monitored network. If you’re on a public Wi-Fi network and the network administrators use network monitoring tools, they might be able to track your internet activity. However, you can’t be tracked if you’re using a virtual private network (VPN) service that prevents DNS leaks and does not log your activity.

What does your internet provider see?

Your ISP can typically see and track the domain names of the websites you visit because it manages the connection between your device and the internet. Apart from domain names, your ISP can also see the duration of your connections, and the amount of data transferred.

However, if you use encrypted connections, such as a VPN, your ISP generally cannot see the specific pages or content you access within websites, even though your ISP knows you’re using a VPN. If this is still too much for you, you can read our dedicated article and learn ways to limit ISP tracking even further.

Can your ISP see your Incognito history?

Yes, your ISP can still know which websites you visit when you’re using the Incognito mode on Google Chrome (or a similar private browsing mode on another search engine). This is because Incognito mode doesn’t encrypt your internet traffic but simply prevents the browser from storing cookies, site data, and your browsing history locally.

How long does your ISP keep your browsing history for?

The duration your ISP keeps your browsing history depends on the ISP’s policies, the country’s data retention laws, and sometimes the specific service agreements between the ISP and you, the customer.

The law usually mandates ISPs to retain their clients’ data, including their browsing history, for a period from six months to two years or longer. You should check the contract you’ve signed with your internet provider for more detail on your data privacy and retention.

Who can see your deleted search and browsing history?

Once you delete your search and browsing history from your device, typically no one can access or see it. However, if your ISP, search engines, websites, or third-party trackers have previously collected and retained your search or browsing history, they may still have the copies of this data and potentially access or use it.

Your ISP cannot see your deleted browsing history. Once you delete it from your device, it’s typically removed from your local storage and cannot be accessed by your ISP. However, if your ISP has previously stored your browsing history, deleting it from your device will not remove it from its records.

How can you keep your browsing history private?

Keeping your browsing history private is easier than you might think. Follow these steps to keep snoopers away from what your web activity:

  1. Use a VPN to protect your online traffic. A quality VPN encrypts your internet connection and routes it through a secure server, masking your IP address and making it much harder for others (including your ISP) to snoop on your internet activity.
  2. Browse in the Incognito mode. Activate your browser’s Incognito mode for a quick privacy boost. When Incognito mode is on, your browser will not store your browsing history, cookies, or site data locally. Once you close the window, it’s like you were never there.
  3. Clear your browsing history. Don’t forget to regularly delete your browsing history, cookies, and cache. It’s like Spring cleaning your browser and giving it a fresh start.
  4. Be extra careful with permissions. Whether you’re creating an account on a website, downloading an app, or signing a contract with an ISP, make sure to read the fine print and don’t just automatically give permissions for these entities to track your activity.
  5. Block web trackers. Use special tools, browser extensions, or plugins that block tracking cookies and scripts. Download Threat Protection Pro to help you stop advertisers and data brokers from following your digital footprints around the web.
  6. Use the Tor browser. The Tor network and browser boost your online privacy and shield your online traffic by encrypting it.

Are you being monitored 24/7?

No, you are not typically monitored 24/7, but keep in mind that entities such as ISPs, Wi-Fi owners, and law enforcement can access your online history under specific circumstances, while hackers lurk online, ready to pounce and steal your data at all times.

You should prioritize online privacy and take steps to protect personal information and browsing activities. Use all the privacy tools like VPNs and tracker/ad blocking software at your disposal to safeguard against unauthorized access.

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