Google Web History. Is it the beginnings of ‘Big Brother’?

I recently was describing the Google SearchWiki and thought I’d expand on Google’s crafting of the user’s search experience. Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? Hard to tell. I think Google has good intentions, but if this data got into the wrong hands, it could be very dangerous to a person’s privacy and safety on the internet.

So what am I talking about? Let’s start by asking whether or not you have a Google Account or not? This usually consists of having a ‘GMail‘ e-mail address. If you do have a Google Account and perform a Google Search, notice something I’ve circled in the image below.

Notice that the results that are listed have been ‘Customized based on recent search activity’. If you click on ‘More details’, we’ll explore this a bit more. Keep in mind, you must be logged into your gmail account to see this.

Once we click on ‘More details’, the below appears:

Here’s where it’s revealed what’s really happening behind the scenes. Google mentions:

When possible, Google will customize your search results based on location and/or recent search activity. Additionally, when you’re signed in to your Google Account, you may see even more relevant, useful results based on your web history.

Furthermore, they go on to say:

For privacy reasons, this information is only kept for a short period of time.

This is very interesting as they are also concerned with privacy just as I am or you may be after now discovering that ‘Google’ is watching you. Almost very 1984ish, George Orwell-like in my opinion. However, they do go onto to mention:

Web History helps deliver more personalized search results based on the things you’ve searched for on Google and the sites you’ve visited. You might not notice a big impact on your search results early on, but they should steadily improve over time the more you use Web History.

See below:

To keep things even more private, they have asked for my password on my account again. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think early parts of this Web History feature held all these privacy concerns. Seems to me as they either wised-up or had some complaints.

In the google account I made these screen captures for, I hadn’t enabled  Web History and this is necessary to see what kind of information they are tracking. Perhaps in a near future blog I will show this. When you do enable Web History, this is what greets you below:

Then proceeding further, we enable Web History and see:

Notice how January 9th is highlighted in red. This means that there is some information on this day as to what my Web History was. Clicking on it reveals such information as to what I was searching for through Google.

So keep in mind when you are logged into Google, and decide whether or you want them watching you or not.

The question is also what Google will do with this data that they collect. Will they use it to cater results which are most popular overall? Will this kill SEO? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, keep a lookout over your shoulder! ;-)

Chris J. Politzki
Studio 119 Degrees


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