Monitoring Internet Usage on Your PC
from the March 2001 Actrix Newsletter

by Rob Zorn and Jeremy Fairbrass

There may be times or situations when you need to find out what websites have been visited on your computer, perhaps by other members of your household. You might even want to monitor web usage, e.g. if you want to keep track of what the kids are viewing. There are a few different ways to do this.

The first (and perhaps most obvious) method of checking previous internet usage is to view the computer's History information. Internet Explorer keeps a history of all websites visited, usually for the past 20 days by default, though this number can be re-set. Inside Internet Explorer, click on the Tools menu (or the View menu if you have an older version of IE) and select Internet Options. On the General tab you will see the History settings, which basically consists of "days to keep pages in history''. You can change the amount of days to keep a history there (or you can check to see if someone else has changed it.

You will notice, on the General Tab, that there are buttons there to delete your History or to delete your Temporary Internet Files. There is also a Settings button (on later versions of IE). Clicking this button will bring up the Settings box which will allow you to change a number of the particulars about how Internet explorer keeps a track of where it has been. One of the buttons is called "View Files." Clicking this button will usually bring up a list of all the files, images and cookies that have been downloaded by Internet Explorer during the latest history period. Clicking a few of these will give you some idea of where your browser has recently been. Internet Explorer doesn't always store all of its stuff here, though, so there are better and more reliable ways to check your History.

One way to view the History information, is to to open up the History folder which is located on your hard drive inside "My Computer." There are several places it might be found in, depending on what version of Windows you have.

Possibilities include:

Windows 95/98: C:\Windows\History
Windows 95/98: C:\Windows\Profiles\YourUsername\History
Windows NT/2000: C:\Winnt\Profiles\YourUsername\History
Windows 2000: C:\Documents and Settings\YourUsername\History

Inside this folder you'll see the History broken down into weeks and days, with a list of all the websites and pages visited within those weeks or days. Note: to view the History information of a Windows user other than yourself, you may need to actually log into Windows under their username, but this only applies if your PC has different user log-ins.

The downside of using the History folder is that individual websites (and in fact the entire contents) can easily be deleted from the list. Also, the History folder doesn't keep track of websites visited using other web browsers such as Netscape or Opera.

Probably the best way to track website usage is to download and install a piece of software to do it for you. There are a lot of different programs that can do this sort of thing, and most of them are targeted at the parent/guardian wanting to monitor their children's internet usage. Some of them track your PC's usage secretly and e-mail the results to an e-mail address you can specify. Some businesses use programs like this to secretly track what their employees are getting up to on the Internet, and some parents use these programs similarly. While it is illegal for employers to spy on their employees like this without their knowledge, it is probably quite legal for parents to do it for minors under their guardianship. However, the ethics of such spying, and decisions about legitimate and illegitimate use are beyond the scope of this article and newsletter. No doubt there are plenty of situations in which it is justified, and plenty in which it is not.

There is a large database of such programs at http://www.getnetwise.org/tools/ along with descriptions and comparisons - as well as similar programs that actually filter and block internet access under certain criteria. The main web site, http://www.getnetwise.org, also has a wealth of information on providing a safe Internet environment for families, and is recommended reading in our opinion!