If you’re concerned about internet privacy, you’ve probably wondered: does a VPN hide your search history?
On the surface, it sounds like they do.
Many VPNs assure you of secure and anonymous online experiences anytime you surf the internet, and most claim they’ll keep you safe on any connection.
Truth is, it’s really not so straightforward.
The internet is a complex place, and it can be difficult understanding which connections and histories a VPN can keep you safe on.
Does a VPN hide your search history? Yes, but not all the time
The short answer is this: a VPN does hide your search history, but not all the time.
To put this into perspective, you’ll need to understand how the internet works.
Let’s say you want to search for something online. The information you provide travels from your browser to a local router, and gets re-transmitted to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Once it reaches your ISP, it gets redirected to your intended destination.
And then there’re also two kinds of histories: your browsing history, or what sites you visit, and your search history, or what search queries you enter in a search engine like Google.
Using a VPN only hides your browsing and search histories at certain points of this chain:
Why doesn’t a VPN hide my search history from Google?
Using a VPN does little to hide your search history from Google because of two reasons: cookies and being signed in to a Google account.
In addition to collecting search queries, Google also tracks your online activity using cookies. These cookies get stored in your browser whenever you visit certain websites.
VPNs DO NOT deal with these cookies.
Also, it won’t matter much if you’re performing a search on Google when logged into a Google account, while on a VPN.
Google can still associate search queries with your Google account and easily link back searches to you.
More importantly, Google is so integrated in our daily lives that VPNs just aren’t enough to hide your search history.
If you use an Android mobile device without VPN or log into your Google account on a separate computer, you’ll still expose your search history.
Does a VPN hide my search history from my ISP?
Yes. Using VPN means your ISP cannot decipher the content of your internet traffic, nor can it figure out where you traffic is traveling to or from.
Take note however that your ISP can still see when you tried to connect to a VPN, as well as the IP address of the VPN server you’re connected to.
Does a VPN hide my search history from employers?
Not really. While employers can certainly monitor your search history like an ISP does, your boss has many more ways to keep tabs on you.
A VPN will not prevent your key strokes from being logged, nor will it blur out webcams recording you during work hours.
It’s also unlikely you’ll be able to use a VPN to hide your search history from employers anyway. Most employers conduct application audits on corporate devices, preventing you from even installing a VPN in the first place.
Does a VPN hide my search history on browsers?
A VPN does not hide your search history regardless of which browser you’re using.
Browsers have their own internal settings that VPNs can’t affect. Your search history will still be logged even if you’re using a VPN IP address and have changed to a virtual location.
To hide your search history on browsers, you’ll need to manually manage your search history and toggle the right browser privacy settings.
The best way to do so is to simply go into private browsing mode. If you’re on Chrome, that means sticking to Incognito Mode.
Additionally, consider switching browsers altogether. Privacy advocates highly recommend DuckDuckGo, a web browser that doesn’t log your online activity.
Does a VPN hide my search history on routers?
If you’ve ever bypassed your school’s internet network to play some online games, you probably know the answer to this already.
Yes, a VPN does hide your search history on routers. Internet traffic between you and the VPN server is encrypted, so everyone, including your local router, can only see that there is information being sent and received.
But there’s a catch – network administrators can still determine your actual IP address by tracing where the encrypted traffic is coming from. So while your online activity will be kept secret, the fact that you did something covert can be made known.
VPN and search histories: other things to take note
VPNs do hide your search history most of the time. But before you install any VPN, there are some important points to take note of:
Tip 1: Make sure your VPN isn’t leaking
VPNs can “leak” your actual IP address when it connects to default servers rather than anonymous VPN servers.
A faulty VPN connection may also leak your internet traffic, rendering your VPN useless.
To check if your VPN is leaking, you can run a free DNS leak test.
When you visit the page, you’ll see an IP address. Check if this IP address and location match your actual ones. If you’re on a VPN and they match, it means that your VPN is “leaky”.
Tip 2: Check the VPN’s privacy policies and look out for past breaches
Not all VPNs are created equal. Some VPNs value user privacy more than others, while a small handful quietly collect your data without your consent.
In fact, it’s more than just a handful. Just this month, a bunch of “zero logging” VPN providers based in Hong Kong had leaked more than a terabyte of sensitive user data. Not only were user’s email addresses exposed, their payment information and passwords were also openly leaked on the internet.
The lesson here is that you should never take a VPN’s privacy claims at face value. Always double-check a VPN’s features to make sure you’re getting yourself a good deal, even if it’s just a simple feature like hiding your search history 24/7.
Protect your privacy the right way with VPNs today
At the end of the day, using a VPN alone can hide your search history in most occasions. For maximum privacy, you should always use a VPN in combination with a private browser / browser in private mode.
Don't have a VPN yet? Browse privately today with VPN Vault.
So, does a VPN hide your search history? Most of the time, yes. But always make sure your VPN isn’t leaking, and that your VPN actually works as intended – or your search history won’t be so private after all.