How to browse safely in Microsoft Edge

Get a better browsing experience by adjusting Edge's privacy and security settings.

Windows 10 has raised concerns with its collection of certain user data. You can't turn that off, though you can adjust the OS's privacy and security settings. You can also tweak Edge, Windows 10's new default Web browser. We've given you a tour of Edge's major features, but now let's drill down into the settings specific to your privacy and security. (If you're also using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, we have security tips for those browsers, too.).

Open Microsoft Edge by selecting the blue E on your taskbar. Click the button with three dots in a horizontal line (Edge calls this the More Actions button), and then click Settings at the bottom of the More Actions menu.

Changing how Edge opens

With the settings panel open, look at your options for opening Edge. The most convenient choice is to open with "previous pages." This lets you pick up where you left off. If you were using Edge an hour ago and had one tab open to CNET.com, another to GameSpot, and another to Download.com, the previous pages option will reopen those tabs and reload those pages when you open Edge again later. However, if multiple people are using the same Windows 10 device, or if you're using it in a public place, increase your privacy by choosing "new tab page" instead.

edge new tab page

With "new tab page" enabled, you'll get a streamlined tab with just a box to enter search engine terms and a grid of frequently opened websites. If you don't want that grid to appear, click the Customize link, change the Show option to "a blank page," and click Save. This will reload the tab with just the search engine entry box and a few links at the bottom that you can click to bring back elements you've just hidden.

Setting permissions and clearing form data

You may see third-party software that promises to hide your tracks -- in other words, delete your browsing history. Do it yourself in Edge by opening the Settings menu and clicking the "Choose what to clear" button. Most of the items in this list are self-explanatory. Form Data covers situations where you enter your name, street address, and phone number when creating an account on a website that's asking for that info. Since this is potentially sensitive information, you may not want Edge to remember it, in case an unauthorized user gets access to your device.

edge clear form data

Permissions are for when an application requests access to data or services that exist outside of it. Checking or unchecking these three boxes does not toggle their permissions on and off. Permissions access is managed via the Windows 10 settings menus, which you can read about in more detail in our privacy tips. The boxes in Edge's settings determine whether you want to delete the log that Edge keeps of these permissions.

Pop-up windows and the Adobe Flash media player

In the Settings pane, scroll down to the bottom and click the View Advanced Settings button to see the rest of Edge's behavioral options.

By default, Edge blocks pop-up windows, but certain websites require this function to operate correctly. That's why a browser customarily tells you that it has just blocked a pop-up, so that a potentially important element of the site doesn't stay invisible to you. Besides being annoying, pop-ups can be malicious, containing ads that lead to sketchy websites or malware that can deploy onto your computer. So we recommend leaving pop-ups blocked unless you have a specific need for them.

edge adobe flash

"Use Adobe Flash player" is also enabled by default. This is frequently a malware avenue as well, so you may want to leave it disabled when you don't need it. Toggling off Flash may make certain websites difficult or impossible to navigate, and some streaming video may not load, so there are trade-offs. Sites like YouTube are moving away from Flash video and toward HTML5, which is more secure, but it's been a slow transition for the Internet as a whole. Edge streams HTML5 content without you needing to toggle anything.

Passwords, form entries, and Do Not Track

Edge can remember the passwords for your online accounts, which is helpful, but you can't access those saved passwords if you move over to a device without Edge, like your phone. That's why we recommend a third-party password manager like LastPass or Dashlane. These services store your usernames and passwords in the cloud so that they can be accessed on a variety of devices, and you can even enable offline access. You need a master password to access the service itself, though, so a password manager not a perfect solution. But it's a more universally accessible one.

edge passwords form entries

"Save form entries" refers to the form data that we mentioned earlier, like your address and phone number. For higher security and privacy, we recommend disabling this, especially if you're using Edge on a mobile device, which can get lost or stolen more easily than a desktop PC. Otherwise, when you start typing into a form, information that you entered previously can pop up or get automatically get filled in as soon as the form is loaded on the webpage. You don't want anyone else seeing your autofill info.

Do Not Track does not have a strong impact on security or privacy, since it's a completely voluntary system. No one has the authority to force a website to accept a Do Not Track request, and the sites least likely to accept it are usually the ones most likely to engage in suspect behavior. So enabling the feature won't make much difference.

Default search engines, search suggestions, and cookies

When you type something in the address bar that is not a URL, Edge uses Bing to deliver search results. Like Google, Bing records your search behavior and uses it to decide which ads or sponsored searches to show you. If you don't want your searches tracked, you may want to use a different search engine altogether. DuckDuckGo is one such option (although you might not find its search results as accurate). If you want to use DuckDuckGo instead of Bing or Google, you'll need to jump through a few hoops: Edge does not make it easy to use a search engine other than Bing.

edge choose search provider engine

To do so, go to DuckDuckGo's website. This will allow Edge to recognize the site as a valid search engine. Open Edge's Settings menu, scroll down to the View Advanced Settings button, click it, scroll down to where it says "www.bing.com," click that, click Add New, select duckduckgo.com from the list, and click Add as Default.

The search suggestions setting is located right below the default search engine setting. With search suggestions enabled, Edge will guess what you're looking for as you begin typing things into the address bar. It does so by sending this text to Microsoft, which analyzes the text and sends suggestions back. This feature only works when you have Bing enabled as your default search engine. If you don't want Microsoft to see what you're typing, toggle this off.

Edge and other browsers use cookies to let a website recognize who you are and tailor what it displays on your screen. These are small text files stored in the browser's cache folder. Some websites or site elements won't load if you block cookies. Edge doesn't give you the option to accept or block cookies on a case-by-case basis, so website navigation is usually smoother if you accept all cookies.

Page prediction and the SmartScreen Filter

Further down the Advanced Settings pane are the toggles for page prediction and the SmartScreen filter. Page prediction works similarly to search suggestions, but it doesn't send information to Microsoft. It works within the browser, which attempts to guess the link that you're going to click next and preloads this linked page in the background. This activity may use a moderate amount of data, so mobile users with data caps might want to turn this feature off, but it should be fine for most desktop users with a broadband Internet connection.

edge page prediction smartscreen filter

The SmartScreen filter attempts to identify potentially malicious programs that you've downloaded and blocks their installation. If you believe that SmartScreen has made a mistake, you can turn it off here and retry the download. But it's usually correct, so we recommend leaving it on.

About Tom McNamara

Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at Download.com.

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