Google is not your friend.
April 21, 2005 6:50 AM   Subscribe

Google is watching you.... "My Search History lets you easily view and manage your search history from any computer." Given the continuing concerns about Google's respect for privacy, is this a good thing?
posted by jefgodesky (42 comments total)
And yes, they're using JavaScript to send XML to their server, in order to log every outbound link you click on.
posted by jefgodesky at 6:52 AM on April 21, 2005

Don't you have to log in to activate "My Search History"?
Doesn't that imply that they're not so much spying as offering a service?
posted by seanyboy at 7:08 AM on April 21, 2005

Oh google. I enjoy the automatic phonebook feature. Just type in a phone number without any other keywords: It goes to phonebook entry with the links to the maps.

Of course that's already available in any phonebook, but there's just something about the ease.
posted by tomplus2 at 7:10 AM on April 21, 2005

Damn, guess I won't be using Google Images to surf my porn anymore. Bah, who am I kidding?
posted by furtive at 7:14 AM on April 21, 2005

Somehow, this kind of thing makes me want to retire from the websurfing business. (Yes, I know it's a "service.")
posted by kozad at 7:14 AM on April 21, 2005

Privacy-wise, I'm not terribly concerned, since it is purely opt-in. Since a google search is in open http headers anyway, why does this open up more opportunities for third party monitoring?

From an information management perspective, this is fascinating. Google revolutionized how we think about knowledge, shifting from knowing the resource (this author/journal/book) to just remembering a set of relevant serach terms. Now I just have to remember that I found something, and roughly when it was, with plenty of memory aids (similar searches, etc).

Helpful, but is there a point at which offloading memory burdens can impare cognition?
posted by allan at 7:14 AM on April 21, 2005

No no, jefgodesky is right, Google, logically speaking, just by investing this technology MUST have some way to take that information about the porn and early 1930s jazz you're searching for and turn it into a plot to take over the world.

They'll probably email your spouse about the porn too, just for good measure.

It's not as if Google is a business that would pretty much instantly fail if people didn't trust the site. And it's certainly not as if you can claim this is some kind of free value add service by which one can help organize their surfing habits (especially for researchers).

No, it's certainly that evil thing.

Oh, the year the Google cookie expires? The reason for that is simple, by then Google will rule the world, and won't need the cookie anymore. Duh.

My god I'm sick of this. The internet is now officially full of people who a) deserve free stuff, b) demand that stuff be done better, c) see the bogeyman in a and b.
posted by tiamat at 7:16 AM on April 21, 2005

kozad: "Somehow, this kind of thing makes me want to retire from the websurfing business. (Yes, I know it's a "service.")"

Why don't you just retire from using Google? There are other Search Engines out there. People who act like Google's the only show out there (when in reality they're only the best one) don't get any pity from me.

From where I come from, this is awesome. I do about a thousand Google searches a day from at least three different machines. This is going to save me about twenty emails to myself a week.
posted by Plutor at 7:20 AM on April 21, 2005

A few miles from your doorstep, a website is designed to search the Internet for information you request. The company calls itself "Google". But another, more alarmist name would be...THE SPY-BOT SEARCH ENGINE!
posted by The Dryyyyy Cracker at 7:21 AM on April 21, 2005

It stops Safari from opening links in new tabs, for some reason.
posted by bonaldi at 7:22 AM on April 21, 2005

Like the infamous AutoLink feature, you're quite right, you need to "opt-in" for it, yes. Of course, all the hype around that overlooked probably the worst part about it--that the AutoLink feature also sent back to Google any page you viewed, keeping track of everything you look at, and when you looked at it.

I suspect there may be similiar egregious violations here that are also not readily apparent--like that sneaky little bit of JavaScript that's unadvertised and unnoticeable unless you start going through their HTML code....
posted by jefgodesky at 7:23 AM on April 21, 2005

Plutor: "From where I come from, this is awesome. I do about a thousand Google searches a day from at least threedifferent machines. This is going to save me about twenty emails to myself a week."

I just realized how contradictory that is. I really hope that Google introduces some management utilities through this. Like "starring" emails in Gmail. I'd like to be able to flag "this link was what I was looking for". Hm, in fact, I smell a Greasemonkey script for posting entries in my Google history to delicious/MeFi.
posted by Plutor at 7:23 AM on April 21, 2005

Google could probably do this without a login, just using a tracking cookie. But then that would really freak people out.
posted by smackfu at 7:26 AM on April 21, 2005

For the record, I have resumed searching porn on Google now that I noticed there is a pause option in Google History. Phew!
posted by furtive at 7:26 AM on April 21, 2005

They'll probably email your spouse about the porn too, just for good measure.
Only if you check the 'email spouse' box. It's totally opt-in.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:27 AM on April 21, 2005

"Search your web search history, including full text search of all the pages you found with Google."
"Get more useful information in your web search results, like the last time you saw a page, how often you've seen it, and more."

I'm trying to imagine just why I'd want to use this etc.

It seems cool ........ but.
If I keep what I like on - isn't it just as easy to re-search google for something I've seen before?

Sometimes search IS just search. *scratches head*

on preview....plutor: why do you want stuff from the history - if you got what you wanted when you searched - why go back to the history - why not just search again??
posted by peacay at 7:29 AM on April 21, 2005

You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to be concerned at the privacy issues here. If any one user on the computer is signed in to the Google Search History, then all searches will be logged, unless that account is paused. This means "search queries, the results that you click on, and the date and time of your searches". A spouse could keep track of searches made while they were at work. The privacy concern is not for the person controlling the account (and when it is paused, etc.) but for anyone else using that machine unaware of its activity.
posted by spock at 7:32 AM on April 21, 2005

Lorrie Cranor pointed out (on Dave Farber's IP list) that the ability to go into the history and dig out anything you don't want maintained is different from other tracking services like Amazon.

Peacay-- I frequently chase down a term/factoid/source for idle speculation reasons. At the time, I have no need to find it again, but sometimes the new info will percolate, or I'll find some need to pursue it further. I would guess maybe 10% of my searches (google and otherwise) are followups start by tracking down "that thing I saw that time"
posted by allan at 7:33 AM on April 21, 2005

Bah. A little pull-down list appears in most people's browsers that documents their search history, anyway. Most users don't know how to keep their history clean, this won't revolutionize anything.

Go Google, I support you, and your monetary donations to the Democrats.

Please double my stock portfolio. I need a new-er car.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:39 AM on April 21, 2005

oh btw.....googlemaps beta for U.K. is now up and running - in case anyone hasn't heard
posted by peacay at 7:43 AM on April 21, 2005

If any one user on the computer is signed in to the Google Search History, then all searches will be logged, unless that account is paused.

I'm pretty sure you have to have the cookie saying you're logged in to have the Search History do anything. If I log in, go to google, start up the Search History, doodle around, log out, and then my wife logs in, she's not going to have her searches saved.

Unless Google has somehow invented magic, of course.
posted by Remy at 8:01 AM on April 21, 2005

bonaldi, I noticed that, too. Glancing at their JavaScript code, I think it has something to do with this section:


It seems like it's capturing clicks, recording the click, and then sending the browser to the location that was clicked, without regard to the modifier keys used to click on the link. (You'll notice that right-clicking on a link and selecting "Open Link in New Tab" works, but command-clicking does not.)
posted by esd at 8:10 AM on April 21, 2005

Personally, I think this is potentially very useful - I often find myself wanting to find links that I neglected to bookmark/ As for privacy concerns, I'm pretty sure that google was already tracking this information anyway (unless you're one of those (you know, those) people that reject their cookie/delete it after every session), and is now just making the data they're already mining useful to me. What ups the ante now, of course, is that they can tie all the useful data to a specific account which could have ever-more detailed personal info about me; there has to be a point when that becomes worrisome. For some people it's now, for me it'll be when ads start telling me that with my current credit rating and bank balance I can certainly afford to buy. Maybe a bit before. is, I'm sure, in the planning stages.
posted by icathing at 8:13 AM on April 21, 2005


I leave my computer on at home when I go to work. My girlfriend has an account on it, but she's not too tech-saavy, so she very often just uses my account. If I were logged in with this, her searches would be recorded....

Fortunately for her, I haven't used Google in a long time, and there's no way I'd sign up for this. Like so many of Google's recent features, there's some pretty bothersome fine print that most people don't know about.


What's new is the logging of outbound links. Until now, no one has done that. There's no way to do it, except by making some crazy JavaScript to report back and hijack users' bandwidth for your own reporting. Most of us in the search engine business considered that "wrong," so it's a little shocking to see the "Do No Evil" company pioneering the technique.
posted by jefgodesky at 8:27 AM on April 21, 2005

Remy, I think you're missing the earlier poster's point, which is that this makes for an easy intra-household surveillance tool, that you might remain logged in precisely in order to see what your wife is up to. On the other hand, monitoring tools are available that go well beyond keeping records of search history, no? I guess this would let you easily set up a spying mechanism on a machine of which you have little control and no time/desire to install software.

A question: it looks like Google's using a single login/password for all their services. If you log in to this service and don't log out, does someone on that computer than have automatic access to your gmail acccount or will gmail request your login/password again?
posted by nobody at 8:45 AM on April 21, 2005

I don't see the justification for complaining about this feature specifically. Your searches are already being logged by Google. This feature just lets you see that information. (Yes, it ties it to an account instead of a tracking cookie, but there's not a whole lot of difference.) If the information is being recorded anyway, I'd much rather have access to it than have it concealed.

Or maybe you want to argue that they shouldn't log anything at all, or something like that.

Also, if you can't trust the people in your own household to respect your privacy, you are screwed regardless. And any machine can be monitored by installing a keylogger, web proxy, traffic sniffer, etc. You never have privacy on a machine you can't trust.
posted by mcguirk at 8:52 AM on April 21, 2005

damn: "...account...." "...then have...."
posted by nobody at 8:54 AM on April 21, 2005

How long before such Google data starts turning up in court proceedings?
posted by clevershark at 9:09 AM on April 21, 2005

mcguirk, the concern isn't the same ol' access logs as usual, it's tracking outbound links. Like, if you clicked on that link and a message was sent to Matt with your name, the time, and the URL you clicked on. This isn't information "they collect anyway," it's something they had to set up a (pretty sneaky) system to collect.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:22 AM on April 21, 2005

Hmm. I thought I read somewhere that they started tracking outbound links recently, regardless of this feature. But you're right, now I see that it does stop tracking them when I log out of my account.

Still, I don't see which outbound link you clicked on as being nearly as interesting as the search terms themselves from a privacy perspective. The search terms are logged anyway, and associated with a tracking cookie and your IP number, which can lead to your real identity given no more than a letter to your ISP.
posted by mcguirk at 9:39 AM on April 21, 2005

Actually, the outbound links are much more interesting than the search terms. The terms are vague and ambiguous, but which ones you click on....

Granted, people keep wanting this for marketing research, click-through-rates, and how to price their ads, but if this stuff were only to be used for its original intent, it would be the first time in the history of technology.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:46 AM on April 21, 2005

Hey, guess what outbound links are like at
, plus a bunch of other params that look like timestamps and unique tracking ids.

And that's before you login! So google just came up with a javascript method to this, which is so clever someone launched a service just like it for blogs months ago!

Look, I'm not saying this can't/won't be used for evil, but there is really nothing new here except it being google and more in your face.
posted by icathing at 9:55 AM on April 21, 2005

Actually, the outbound links are much more interesting than the search terms. The terms are vague and ambiguous, but which ones you click on....

Maybe from the point of view of advertising. But in terms of whether your privacy is violated, I'd say that knowing that you searched for <medical condition> in the first place is much more sensitive than knowing whether you went to "Joe's site about <medical condition>" or "Bill's site about <medical condition>".

I'd guess that most search terms are specific enough to give you a pretty good idea of what the person is looking for--otherwise there would be too many results to be useful.
posted by mcguirk at 10:05 AM on April 21, 2005

Privacy be damned, I'd like this service for all my surfing history, not just Google searches and their outgoing links. Maybe via a Firefox extension?
posted by Turtle at 10:11 AM on April 21, 2005

Also I'd like to be able to share my search history.
posted by Turtle at 10:12 AM on April 21, 2005

Some small percentage of time, google converts the normal outbound link to something like

This allows them to track outgoing links with no clever tricks, and has been done for years. I don't see anything wrong with it. In fact, this is common practice all over the internet.
posted by recursive at 10:22 AM on April 21, 2005

People who act like Google's the only show out there (when in reality they're only the best one) don't get any pity from me.

umm.... yah.
posted by Satapher at 10:37 AM on April 21, 2005

What I was getting at before - wondering how goohistory would be useful to me - I find that I'm more interested later in just how I found a page of interest. These days it's probably only about 50% of the time that google is responsible. And re-searching is easy.
I don't personally think I retain much signal on a google results page because there's just not enough information - except for page of interest which I go to.
Between mefi, delicious plus a bunch of other regular linky haunts, I find I'm forgetting where I was. So a trackback to the previous page for all things I save at delicious would be much much more useful. For me.

And.....what turtle said the 2nd time. (although I've seen this history sharing on a blog - and I'm sure there's others about - where they have a sidebar with their day's [probably edited] surfing history - and no doubt it's a manual thingy) It would be great to not only trawl tags and users but also their sources.
posted by peacay at 6:08 PM on April 21, 2005

what peacay said, um, both times. Once I find what I'm looking for, I bookmark it to delicious. and since it's tagged, I can get to it easily.
posted by dhruva at 9:31 PM on April 21, 2005

At the very least, this should make Disturbing Search Requests much more interesting.
posted by Down10 at 1:20 AM on April 24, 2005

My guess: Google are testing public opinion to help them consider tracking all clickthroughs for all search results. Then they could track the most popular search results and promote them, and build a profile of each user in order to better target ads.
posted by drewlondon at 7:13 PM on April 24, 2005

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