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Secure browsing on iOS in Safari or iCab Mobile

TJ Luoma, @tjluoma

A friend who values her privacy asked: "How do you delete Google search history on an iPhone?" There are two ways to do this, the first of which is to go to the Settings app, scroll down to 'Safari' and then click the 'Clear History' button as shown above.

The second can be done from inside Safari itself. Tap the 'bookmarks' icon on the toolbar, then select History (note: if you don't see 'History' tap on whatever button is shown at the top-left until you see 'Bookmarks' at the top of the screen), then tap 'Clear.' This might be easier to understand visually, so here are some screenshots:

Private Browsing in Safari

Mobile Safari now has a 'Private Browsing' option to prevent history items, searches, cookies, and form data from being stored.

Private Browsing is great for short web browsing sessions, but what if you want to be able to keep your history and cookies and bookmarks but not allow anyone who uses your iPhone or iPad to be able to access them?

You can't do that with Safari, but you can do it with iCab.

iCab Mobile: Everything Safari does, and much more

iCab Mobile (AKA iCab) is a US$1.99 app that continues to be my browser of choice on my iPad and iPhone. I reviewed iCab last year, but let me focus on some of iCab's privacy features here.

iCab offers Private Browsing, of course, but it also offers many more privacy controls than Safari, such as the ability to delete history, cookies, saved form data, HTTP Auth credentials, databases, and local storage. You can also set it to automatically delete history, cookies, databases, and/or local storage when quitting the app.

As if that wasn't enough, you can password protect the entire application, so anyone else who launches the app is unable to see your bookmarks, history, or anything else. Once password protected, it's possible to enable a 'Guest Mode' to let someone use iCab but still keep your information protected.

In my opinion, iCab is also better at everything else you use a browser for.

iCab sync bookmarks, filters, search engines, and/or settings using iCloud. It lets you change the Browser ID (User Agent) which can be handy for sites that restrict access to certain kinds of browsers or automatically redirect mobile browsers to a stripped-down version of the site. You can download files right to iCab, and then either store them in iCab or open them in other apps. You can even upload those files to Dropbox. Images can be saved from websites directly to Dropbox.

The only downside to using iCab is that Apple does not allow any browser except Safari to be set as the default browser, so any web links clicked in other applications like Mail will continue to open in Safari. In practice that doesn't bother me too much, because Safari is a very good mobile browser. If I want to open a page from Safari in iCab, I can do one of two things: I can tap on the URL and change the "http://" or "https://" to "web://" or "webs://" -- which opens the current page in iCab -- or I can install the Open in iCab bookmark.

iCab Mobile also supports x-callback-url which helps iCab interact with other iOS applications. If you don't know what x-callback-url is, don't worry about it, but if you do know what it is, you'll be glad to know iCab supports it.

To some people, spending two bucks on a browser when Safari is free sounds like wasting money. To me, spending two bucks for a much better browser is a complete bargain. iCab is the 3rd-party app that I use most often on my iOS devices, and it continues to be improved at a much faster rate than Safari.

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