Sometimes, I'm in a situation where I have to use my friend's, or colleague's, mobile phone to search for something, and they have tabs with pornographic websites opened, or their history shows they visited a pornographic website. They may or may not have seen that I saw that.

So, how do I recommend that they delete their browsing history or use private mode?

What business do I have looking at their browsing history?

I am not deliberately looking at their history. Recent example: I had to print something they searched for a few days ago, and they forgot the URL. So I had to look in their browsing history.

I assume it's their business and they can do whatever they like with their mobile phone, but at least knowing to close open tabs or learning to delete their browsing history won't hurt them. I don't want to blatantly come across like I saw their browsing history and it impelled me to point this out.

I am from Nepal. Pornographic content is not well perceived in our society.

  • 3
    @RamchandraGiri thank you. If I may make a second suggestion: questions on Stack Exchange work best when they're about a specific situation. Telling your coworkers to use private browsing may be different from telling a family member to use private browsing. I would recommend narrowing down this question and making it about a specific person.
    – user288
    Sep 18, 2017 at 14:28

5 Answers 5


If you don't want to be too direct, you could mention that you always use "private mode" for sensitive information (e.g. online banking or work related emails). This way, if your phone gets stolen or infected with malware, it would make identity theft harder.

You could adapt the explanation to the situation. The story doesn't need to be 100% factually correct, it should be plausible and somehow related to the current discussion with your friend or colleague.

They might find that this private mode is a good idea, and start using it for browsing porn.


I had a friend who worked in IT, this sort of thing ended up being a surprisingly large part of her job. Luckily she found it hilarious to have to clean up the hard drives after people weren't as cautious as they should have been with a shared device.

When it's a shared device it's a little easier to handle. When passing out devices she could simply remind them that it was in fact a shared, work device.

I probably don't need to say this, but please keep in mind that this phone/laptop will be used by other people. Don't use it for anything that you don't want other people to see.

On the other hand, borrowing someone's personal device is a different matter entirely.

If you need to use someone's personal device, it helps to deliberately protect their privacy.

I end up having to help people connect and troubleshoot their devices at work on a pretty regular basis. Usually I try to walk them through it rather than taking the wheel and doing it for them. This actually takes care of a few problems in one motion. First it protects their privacy, next it teaches them to solve their own tech problem, and last it covers me from being blamed for doing anything to their devices.

If you absolutely have to take someone's personal device and use it yourself, simply ask them to close any unnecessary apps and take care of any private information before handing it over.

I can help you with that, just close all the other apps and make sure you don't have anything out that I shouldn't see.

People who use their devices for porn or other potentially sensitive things will usually get the idea and do a quick sweep.

There's also the universal IT solution that will at least close open tabs in most cases.

Have you tried turning it off and back on again?

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    "[turning it off and back on] will at least close open tabs in most cases" In my phone at least (iPhone w/ Chrome) turning it off/on doesn't close any tabs. It refreshes the top open tab and all the other open tabs remain unchanged.
    – DasBeasto
    Sep 18, 2017 at 18:55

You're using their devices. You can't really tell them how to use their own phones.

You can (if you wanted to) say in private:

You left that browser window open. I'm fine with it, but take care if you let xyz use your phone...

(where xyz is someone you know who will likely take offense at this content).

  • 2
    If I am able I would like to suggest them without stating I saw that even if they know. +1 for the answer though. Sep 18, 2017 at 14:36
  • @RamchandraGiri I'm not sure that's possible. How would you like it if a friend told you to use private browsing mode when you have nothing to hide? It would be a pretty provocative assumption.
    – user1722
    Sep 18, 2017 at 14:38
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    @RamchandraGiri Is it possible you could mention something less sensitive that you saw instead? This may allow you to use this method without mentioning the fact that you saw pornographic websites in their search history.
    – Braydon
    Sep 18, 2017 at 23:15

I'm basically "the IT-guy" for family and friends and have thus both seen and talked about quite a lot of stuff that is, well... controversial.

A gentle reminder

Most important:
Always remember that it's their device and their way of dealing with the information stored on it! Don't try to preach anything related to privacy or you'll be tilting against windmills. Just give them a small reminder that it's possible to clear parts or the entire history, if they want to.

A small chat about how websites are able to identify a user is usually more than sufficient to kick off a discussion on privacy which you can use to offer them help with managing their browser-history. With good friends - or people of whom you know that they don't mind talking with you about the topic - you could try being upfront:

When I was working on your #insert device# I noticed you had #content# in an open tab/your browser-history. Mind if I show you a few tricks with your browser?

In general especially younger people are a lot more open about this kind of topic and won't mind talking about explicit content (Note: this is personal experience, localized to middle-Europe; this might not apply to Nepal(?)). While this should do to deal with situations where it's already too late for being up-front on what you've seen this kind of situation should be prevented in the first place.

Privacy and trust

Keep in mind that friends showing you their device put some trust in you. They most likely don't mind you seeing their history, but might be more picky about other people. Remind them that what is visible to him and you is visible to anyone else who gets the phone into his hands should do.

Or depending on how tech-savvy they are they might not even realize what they are actually showing to you. Clarifying what you will see when working with their device beforehand might in some cases make this whole issue a lot simpler (and should be done irrespective of circumstances, unless the person has sufficient knowledge to judge what you'll see, IMO). In that case make sure though to tell them that you'll treat anything on their phone/PC as confidential and that you can show them how to get rid of anything in their history if they want you to.

In either case, at least a short word on what you'll do and see to the owner of the device won't hurt and is a fair chance for them to choose what you'll see (and also for you - see below). Keep this appropriate to circumstances, like tech-safeness of the owner of the device, type of content you'll work with, etc..

How to deal personally with the content

Now you may not feel comfortable looking at specific parts of their history/open tabs. In that case you should point that out instead. A generic phrase like

Keep in mind that I'll see what you're doing on that phone. I feel a bit uncomfortable looking at browser-activity that is not my own, so if you don't mind, please close any open tabs and clear your history.

will get you a device in the state you'd like and/or may start a conversation about the topic, which should also help your purpose.


This should be mentioned under any circumstances, if such a situation takes place:

Your friend/colleague hands you his work-device, issued by the company, with NSFW-content open or in the history.

Alongside any company-issued devices usually comes a contract on how to use them. It is common use to restrict the usage of these devices to work-related things and any violation might have serious consequences depending on how the company deals with breaches of that contract (worst-case: you're fired). Telling them to be careful with their history or refrain from visiting any NSFW-content on that device (and telling them that you'll handle what you just did/saw as private) is definitely a good idea.


Be upfront about what you will see, how you will deal with that and what you'd rather not see before touching the device. Don't be pushy about your opinion on privacy. This is counterproductive as people will nearly always ignore it. You can try to steer the conversation in the right direction, but don't enforce anything. They may actually keep their history on purpose or don't care. In either way, it's their device and their way and you should refrain from questioning that, unless they put themselves in some serious risk (really serious, not "some dude might actually see that video you watched last evening").


I totally agree with indirectly mentioning it. Perhaps you could use your phone to show him something and go incognito. Hopefully, he will ask you: "what is this?". Explain to them what incognito mode is then mention something like:

I use it to keep my history searchable and I don't really like people knowing what I search

If he doesn't ask "what is this?" then just mention the above sentence out of blue then he should probably ask you what are you talking about then explain what incognito is.

Possibly also mention:

The girlfriend of your friend looked at his history and found he was looking up an ex-girlfriend on facebook or some other social media, they had a pretty hard fight.

This way you avoid mentioning porn anywhere, also you don't mention him or his phone. Hopefully, he will understand the benefits of incognito mode and will be a little scared knowing what he has in his history.

With incognito even if there's a tab open it's partially hidden so you don't have to see it.

Of course, if this doesn't work you're left with the direct approach.

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