Since you're reading this, you've probably heard bad things about so-called 'cookies' and how you should delete them from your PC or laptop. We'll show you how to do that, along with your web browsing history.
First, though, it's worth understanding a cookie's role and why you might want to keep at least some of them.
What are cookies?
Cookies store information about you and your preferences, and websites use this information for various purposes. Some cookies are beneficial because they save you from having to log in to a site or set your preferences each time you visit a website.
For example, you might change the currency on a shopping website from Euros to British Pounds. Without a cookie to store that information, you have to make that setting each time you shopp on that site.
Some cookies store a lot more information, which some people consider private and sensitive. That information includes which websites you visited after looking at a previous site. Again, this could used to make your life easier, and it almost always used to deliver targeted adverts. But you may reasonably consider such tracking as you browse the web to be an invasion of privacy.
Cookies can send data back to the webpages that you visit; and what the website (or owners of the site) do with this data is where lies the invasion of privacy. This is why deleting your cookies and - to a lesser degree - your browsing history is considered by many to be a useful periodic task.
Should I delete my browsing history?
As with third-party cookies, you may not always want to delete your internet history, since it's convenient to have your browser auto-complete website addresses as you begin typing, prioritising sites you've visited recently over search engine results. You might also like to search your history to find a page you forgot to bookmark weeks- or even months ago.
With this in mind, deleting your cookies and browsing history is really very simple. We'll cover the main web browsers here, and you'll need to follow the instructions for all the browsers you use, since they don't all share a common pool of cookies and websites you've visited.
Clear Google Chrome history
Located to the top right of the Chrome window you will see an icon with three vertical dots. Click on this and then choose Settings from the list.
In the search box at the top type cookies and then click on 'Clear browsing data'.
Tick the 'Cookies and other site data' box. Note that the drop-down box at the top lets you choose the time period. This is handy as you can (as Google says) obliterate data from the past hour, day, week, last four weeks or everything.
Depending on the other options you tick in the list, you can use this duration to selectively delete cookies, browsing history or any other items from the list.
As the message says, the data will be deleted from all your devices where you're signed into Chrome. If you're not signed in with your Google account, data on that device won't be affected so you may need to repeat this process on other laptops, PCs and tablets you own.
Chrome also lets you delete specific cookies. To do this, instead of clicking on Clear browsing data as described above, click on Content settings.
Then click on Cookies and then See all cookies and site data. Here you can delete and block specific cookies.
There will probably be a long list, and it's an arduous task to go through them all to work out which to keep and which to delete, but it's possible if you want to keep cookies for your favourite sites.
Clear Firefox browsing history
Click on the menu located in the top-right of the main window (three horizontal bars). From here click History from the menu that appears, then on 'Clear recent history' (or just press Ctrl-Shift-Del to bring up the window directly).
You don't get quite the extensive list of options as you do with Chrome, but the duration drop-down menu lets you choose from 1 hour, 2 hours, 4 hours, today or everything.
If you want to delete individual cookies in Firefox, click on Options instead of History from the main menu.
Use the search bar to enter 'cookies' and then click on the 'remove individual cookies' link. As with other browsers this is a tedious process as there are so many of them.
Clear browsing history in Microsoft Edge
Click on the three horizontal dots at the top-right corner of Edge and choose Settings from the menu.
Under Clear browsing data click 'Choose what to clear'.
By default cookies and browsing history are ticked so it's simply a case of clicking the 'Clear' button. Unfortunately Microsoft offers no granularity over the process: it's all or nothing.
You can enable the 'Always clear this when I close the browser' if you never want cookies or history to be saved.
Clicking 'Show more' reveals extra data to clear such as pop-up exceptions and a variety of permissions.
Clear browsing history in Opera
Opera's menu is at the top-left of the window. Click it and then on History. Or, as with Firefox, press Ctrl-Shift-Del to display the window.
It's very similar to Chrome and Firefox: you can choose the time period and what to delete.
To remove individual cookies, choose Settings from the main menu (or press Alt-P) and then use the search box to search for 'cookies'.
Click on 'All cookies and site data' and you'll see a window like the one below. Here you can search for sites, or go through the list manually.