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Q: Red-blooded American male that I am, I dig the occasional cyberporn session on my PC. My significant other isn't too cool with this, especially now that we've got a youngster in the house, so I've got to cover my tracks. Should I buy some of that porn-erasing software that's hyped all over the Web?
Only if you're so rolling in it that you've got $30 to waste. Those programs that claim to scrub your machine clean of naughty bits? Most of them don't do anything fancier than empty out your memory cache, delete your cookies, and perform other minor maintenance. Unless your lover has access to FBI-caliber forensic tools, simple vigilance should suffice.
The skeptical out there might guess you're looking to cover up something more sinister than JPEGs of "sexy sorority initiations." If you're flouting the law enough to merit police interest, rest assured no technological tricks will save your sorry assyour ISP records can implicate you, even if you incinerate your hard drive. Plus, think of the terrible karma. Get help.
You get the benefit of Mr. Roboto's doubt, though, and we'll proceed on the assumption that your tastes are legally copacetic. Whenever you view online pictures or video, salacious or not, the material is temporarily stored in your machine's memory. So get in the habit of deleting these temporary files after every foray into Pornland. On most browsers, like up-to-date versions of Internet Explorer, this should be as easy as going to "Internet Options" in the "Tools" menu.
It's also a good idea to delete your cookies every once in a while, as well as clear the history folderagain, both should be easily doable from your browser's options panel. While you're surfing for gear, you might also want to turn off AutoComplete, the function that tries to guess what URL you're typing. Would be a pity if Junior tried to visit ESPN.com, and saw that you'd recently perused EstonianHotties.com.
Sometimes, you can inadvertently download a porn file into your system's permanent memory. Mr. Roboto was recently embarrassed to learn that one of his music folders contained several cheesecake shots of curvy 8-bit micro-controllers; the voluptuous Philips 89LPC932 is the robotic answer to Vida Guerra (vidasworld.com). To sniff these peccadilloes out, download the free version of Snitch (hyperdynesoftware.com), a "parental control" program that scans for fleshy pix and movies. A bit annoying, in that it tends to finger innocuous material, too, but how much do you want to avoid your partner's wrath?
Also, do a disk cleanup while you're at it, which'll deep-six any remaining pornographic residue. A nice freeware utility to get the job done is CM DiskCleaner (cmdiskcleaner.com), which scans your drives for temporary files and gives you the chance to delete whatever looks superfluous. Aside from ditching porn, CM DiskCleaner will spiff up your PC's performance by weeding out memory-hogging junk.
When all's said and done, the track covering should take you no more than a minute or two, and cost you zilch. No need, then, to invest in one of those porn erasers that's always being hawked in pop-ups (typically with a line like, "Porn detected!"). All they usually do is automate the above steps, and leave you a couple quid poorer in the process.
The porn-erasing ads are correct, however, in pointing out that spicy files live on even after they've been dragged to the trash. The data needs to be overwritten before it's gone forever, and that can take weeks, months, or years, largely depending on the size of your hard drive. And even overwritten files can be salvaged by a pro, especially one equipped with the latest National Security Agency software.
The truly paranoid can use a free memory eraserMr. Roboto recommends Eraser 5.3 for PC users (tolvanen.com/eraser), and Burn 2.5 for Macheads (securemac.com/burn.php). Or you can invest $500yes, $500in the pro version of DataEraser (ontrack.com), which is what corporate sysadmins use to fend off industrial saboteurs.
If you're mate's really that serious about squelching your fun, though, perhaps concealing your porn habits should be the least of your worries. Let Mr. Roboto put on his Dan Savage hat for a moment, and gently ask, "Why the heck are you with this creep in the first place?"
Input questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.