Is Windows tracking every folder you open?

Every time you create, modify or access a folder on your PC, Windows records these details in the Registry. There’s nothing shady about this -- the action is a key part of recording your folder view settings, and maintaining a list of your favorite folders -- but it does introduce a privacy risk, as snoopers can use the data to track some of your PC activities.

Exactly how much information is exposed here will vary, but if you’re not already familiar with the issue then it makes sense to check your PC with the free ShellBag AnalyZer & Cleaner. There’s no adware, no installation required, just download and launch the program and in a few seconds you’ll have the full picture.

The initial report presents you with a simple table, listing each opened folder, its name, path, and last visit date. You can click any column header to sort by that field, too, so for instance clicking "Last visit" will show you the folders you’ve browsed in time order.

It’s surprising how much data can be available here. On one test PC, ShellBag AnalyZer & Cleaner found traces of over 5,000 folders opened, stretching back for years (although you can filter the report in various ways if you’d like to make it more manageable).

What’s more, this list also includes deleted folders. And so while you might think you’ve removed any trace of something sensitive by deleting the folder where it was stored, that’s not necessarily the case: dates and times when you opened that folder may still be visible here.

If you’re worried about any of this, though, clicking Clean will provide some possible solutions. The program can delete references to particular folder types, scramble dates and times, even securely overwriting this information so there’s no way it can be recovered later. (Which seems like overkill to us, but it’s good to have the option.)

It’s important to be careful about the options you select, however. If you delete the references to folders which still exist then you’ll lose their Explorer view settings, for instance -- perhaps not what you want. And ShellBag AnalyZer & Cleaner can also delete references to system folders, but says that’s "not recommended".

Neither of these options is selected by default, so don’t let that put you off using the program -- just be sure to pay attention when you’re exploring what it can do.

Photo Credit: Brian A Jackson

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