ERASE WHAT YOU DO IN WINDOWS
Recently opened files and programs
The logical place to start when removing details of your Windows activities is the Start menu, which shows anyone who uses your PC the programs you’ve recently added and those you use most often. Windows 11’s Start menu also lists Recommended items including recently opened files.
Further information about what you’ve been doing is revealed by the Jump Lists that open when you right-click the taskbar or Start-menu icons for programs and File Explorer. These list files, folders and links you opened recently or use frequently, so you can access them again quickly, but they also compromise your privacy by letting other people access those items, too.
In Privacy Eraser, you can wipe this data in the Windows Explorer section of the Windows tab (see screenshot above right). Select the options Start Menu Recent Items and Taskbar Jump Lists before you run a clean-up with the program. It’s also worth ticking the boxes for the following: Windows Search History – to stop anyone seeing which items you’ve searched your PC for; Start Menu Run History – if you’ve used the Run tool in Windows to access private files and folders; and ‘Open & Save Dialog History’ – to delete the file history from the Open and Save dialogue boxes.
PrivaZer also lets you delete details of recently opened files and programs. Click ‘Scan specific traces’ on the home screen, choose ‘Software use’ and select ‘Start JumpLists, Quick Access’. Tick the box next to ‘Start menu’ to wipe usage data from the menu and the taskbar, then choose the Jump Lists you want to delete – such as for Windows Explorer (File Explorer), specific programs or all Jump Lists on your computer. Select ‘Windows history’ to remove details of your recent searches, Run history and the files and directories (folders) you’ve used.
Hidden data stored in Windows
One of Privacy Eraser’s greatest strengths is that it wipes personal data from Windows you may have forgotten about but that can still be accessed by other people. For example, you may have copied sensitive information to the Clipboard that anyone can then paste elsewhere by pressing Ctrl-V. If they’re particularly nosey, they can press Windows key-V to open your Clipboard history and see the last 25 items you’ve copied. To stop this happening, select Clipboard in the Windows System section of the Windows tab to erase your Clipboard history.
It’s equally easy to forget that files and folders you delete are usually sent to the recycle bin rather than removed from your PC. Ticking the Recycle Bin option in Privacy Eraser empties the bins on all the drives connected to your computer, so their contents can’t be retrieved.
PrivaZer goes even further by thoroughly overwriting files deleted from the recycle bin to guarantee ‘permanent deletion without any possibility of recovery’. Click ‘Delete without a trace’ on its home screen, select ‘Empty recycle bin (without a trace)’ then select ‘See advanced options’. Click the dropdown menu to specify how many times to overwrite recycle bin data – PrivaZer suggests three ‘passes’ are enough to make recovery impossible (see screenshot below) – then click Start.
You can set the program to always empty your recycle bin after a clean-up by choosing Options on the home screen and clicking Next until you reach the ‘Yes, at each cleanup of my PC with PrivaZer’ option under ‘Empty recycle bin’.
Traces of data in free drive space
When you delete a file from your PC, all that’s actually removed is the reference to that item in the Windows
master file table (MFT). The file itself remains on your hard drive until it’s overwritten with new data, though the space it occupies is now marked as ‘free’ by Windows. This is useful if you need to ‘undelete’ the file using a specialist recovery tool such as Recuva or WinfrGUI, but it also means that your hard drive contains lots of invisibledata that potentially compromises your privacy.
PrivaZer helpfully provides a dedicated option for removing junk traces from ‘free’ disk space. On its home screen choose ‘Scan specific traces’, select ‘Residual traces of old files’ under ‘Which traces’, then select ‘Residual traces of old files’ on the following screen. Tick the boxes for Pre-analysis and ‘Traces in free space’ ( 1 in our screenshot above right), then click the Scan button.
PrivaZer will identify sectors of your hard drive that contain traces of old files and need to be ‘reset to zero’. Click ‘See cleanup options’ 2 to specify how many times to overwrite the free space – again, three ‘passes’ is enough – then click the ‘Free space’ tab and choose ‘Smart cleanup’ – this is much faster than ‘Normal cleanup’ because it only cleans necessary sectors. Go back to the previous screen and click Clean 3 to completely erase all the invisible data from your PC.
Broken shortcuts to deleted files
Shortcuts that no longer work because the files, folders or programs they point to have been deleted are usually more of an annoyance than a privacy concern. But the shortcuts’ file names may be enough for nosey parkers to deduce the contents of the original items and wonder why they were removed, so it’s wise not to leave them behind.
Privacy Eraser makes detecting and deleting broken shortcuts very straightforward – simply go to the Windows System section and tick the boxes for Invalid Start Menu Shortcuts and Invalid Desktop Shortcuts before running a scan (see screenshot right).
In PrivaZer, select Options on the home screen, click Next twice and choose either ‘Yes, remove invalid shortcuts’ or ‘Yes, invalid shortcuts + list of most used’ to also delete details of frequently used programs.
Leftover traces in the registry
Every time you uninstall a program or change something in Windows, redundant settings get left behind in the registry. Over time, these leftovers build up and slow your PC, and removing them can both speed it up and protect your privacy from anyone hunting for leftover traces.
Deleting registry files yourself can be risky, but Privacy Eraser’s Windows tab makes the job easier by letting you select items that it’s safe to remove. Options include Obsolete Software, which wipes registry entries for programs you’ve uninstalled; and Shared DLLs, which deletes old entries for dynamic link libraries that no longer exist.
Privacy Eraser automatically backs up your registry before making any changes, and lets you restore it by clicking the three-dot icon next to the Registry heading, then the Restore tab. Select a registry backup and click Restore (see screenshot left).
To clean the registry in PrivaZer, click ‘Scan specific traces’, choose In Registry and select Registry on the left. Click ‘Save registry’ in the bottom-right corner to create a backup before scanning for and cleaning leftover traces – you can safely leave the pre-ticked options as they are.