I want to delete the items that show up automatically when I search for something using Google’s toolbar. I’ll admit it, there are some terms there that I’d not want others to see. How do I clear that?
That’s actually a composite question from several related questions that I get several times each day. People search for things on Google, and then they don’t want the evidence of what they searched for to remain.
But there’s an amazing amount of confusion. Some say “Google toolbar” and mean “Google toolbar”. Others say “Google toolbar” and mean … well, apparently they mean something else.
And naturally the difference is important in answering the question.
The true, Google Toolbar is software that you download from Google that places an additional toolbar within your browser specifically for Google-related features and functionality. It’s available for at least Internet Explorer and Firefox, and perhaps other browsers.
Here’s the Google Toolbar with the search history dropped down:
You know it’s the Google toolbar because of the Google logo on the left.
In the past, my advice was to hit the options button on the Google Toolbar, turn OFF Drop Down Search History and press OK. Then repeat that process to turn it back on, after which the history appeared to be gone.
In later versions of the toolbar it’s way easier. Click on the Google logo, and then click on Clear Search History:
You may need to hit refresh, or restart your browser for the last vestiges to disappear.
That’s all there is to it.
Browser Address Bar
A lot of people don’t realize that the browser’s address bar can also act as a search tool. And if you’ve set your default search engine to be Google, well, that kind of, sort of, acts like the Google toolbar also, even though it’s not.
Here you can see I’ve started typing my name into the Internet Explorer address bar, and a dropdown shows a few interesting options:
Now, it’s interesting to note that those items shown here actually don’t come from my search or browse history. “Leo” is the name of the machine, and if selected would open up a Windows Explorer like view of my machine. “Links” is the item from my “Favorites” menu, and “LinkSys” is, in fact, a shortcut placed on my Favorites menu. So many of the items that will show up here are not related to your history at all.
If you are seeing history items in your Internet Explorer address bar, there are a couple of things you’ll want to do to clear it.
Click on the Tools menu, then on Internet Options…, and then on the General tab, if it’s not already showing.
Click on the Clear History button, and confirm that you want your history deleted. Note that this will clear all of your history, including the list of places you’ve visited in the History window.
Other browsers, such as Firefox, have similar functionality, and will have similar options to control and flush your history.
I’ve been told that another, somewhat surprising, place to delete history is in the Windows Start menu.
Close your browser. Right click on the Start button, and click on Properties, and then on the Customize button, and finally the Advanced tab. You should see something like this (it differs slightly if you’re using the “Classic” Start Menu):
Click on the Clear List button to clear the history of recently visited documents. Apparently the definition of a “document” might well include things you’ve visited or searched for on the web, and may also show up in IE’s address bar.
Google – sort of
The last place we’ll look is at the Google web page itself. People to seem to ask about “The Google Toolbar”, when in fact they really mean this:
This is not the Google Toolbar, but rather simply the Google web site. And the history shown actually has almost nothing to do with Google itself, but rather your browser trying to be helpful filling in the “form” that is the Google search box.
So to clear this item, we need to once again dive into our browser’s options.
In Internet Explorer, click on the Tools menu, then on Internet Options…, and then on the Content tab:
In there, click on the AutoComplete… button for this dialog:
Hit the Clear Forms button.
As you can tell, it’s very easy to leave traces of what you’ve been up to in various places. Naturally it would make sense to exercise caution when searching if you’re at all concerned about your privacy.
My friend Dave Taylor has the Mac-equivalent steps you’ll want to take for Safari: How do I clear recent searches from Safari and Google?.