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September 29, 2010

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Google Web History

Google's Motto Is Don't Be Evil

Scoroncocolo, Scoroncocolo Tech Pages, ScarewareSome of Google's free services are sort of spooky. One of those sort of spooky services is Google Web History

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Google Web History Is Sort Of Spooky

Back on February 17th of this year, I published an article on this Website about Google's Free Services in which I wrote about almost all of the wonderful stuff that Google offers to us free of charge like Gmail, Google Docs, Picasa and a host of other useful online and off-line Google products and services. One thing I left out in that article is a rather "spooky" service that Google provides us for free that a lot of people don't seem to know about or at least don't seem to pay much attention to called Google Web History.

What is Google Web History? And why do I refer to it as rather spooky? Well copy this url and paste it into your browser address window to find out. Note that you'll have to be signed into your Google account in order to see your Google Web History. If you don't have a Google account, you won't see much of anything other than a page inviting you to sign up for a Google account. If you do have a Google account (and most of us do) you might be somewhat surprised at what you do see.

Since as far back as April of 2007 Google has been offering to help us remember where we've been on the Web or Google has been spying on us perhaps without most of us even knowing about it. Those are the two ways that most people who are aware of Google Web History feel about this free and somewhat "spooky" Google service. In fairness to Google, when you create a Google Account you're given the option to disable Google Web History even though it is enabled by default. But Google doesn't go to great lengths to describe what Google Web History is when people are first setting up their accounts so almost everyone of us opt in and then promptly forget about it. So there are no doubt millions of people who are unaware that Google has been recording on their vast banks of servers every search they have ever made on Google since the Spring of 2007. And they are no doubt just as unaware that Google has been making available to them the last 180 days of those of those searches via Google Web History.

Why Google Web History Is Spooky

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Spooky Google Web History - Trick Or Treat?

Don't get me wrong, I like Google Web History. I think it's a great Google service and I use it fairly frequently to help me find something on the Web that I might have looked at a week ago, a month ago, or even a little over two months ago that I failed to bookmark because, Gees you can't bookmark everything. It's a fantastic Google service and I highly recommend it. Still, every time I use it, it feels kind of spooky.

There are a couple of reasons why I think Google Web History is kind of a "spooky" service. For one thing, it almost looks like Google Web History is doing the same thing that your browser is doing when it saves your browsing record in History. By that I mean the record of your browsing activity that you can access by clicking on the History button in the upper left corner of most browsers like Internet Explorer or Firefox. But that's not the case. Your browser saves your browsing history on your local hard drive and you can very easily erase that. On the other hand, Google Web History saves your search queries on Google's servers. And that's totally out of your reach. O.K. Google says they store your History for 180 days on their servers and then delete it. So they say. You can read Google's Privacy Policy for yourself. The link I just provided is to a privacy policy statement that is due to take effect on October 3, 2010.

Another thing that's a little spooky about Google Web History is the way it skews the search results you get on Google. If I type a search phrase into Google and you search for the exact same thing, chances are very good that we won't get anywhere near the identical results. Google calls this personalized search. Initially, Google Personalized Search was an optional feature and users had to manually enable it. Now Google personalizes search results even for users that aren't logged into their Google accounts. If you're not signed in, Google personalizes search results using, as Google says, "up to 180 days of signed-out search activity linked to your browser's cookie, including queries and results you click." The entire concept of Persanalized Search strikes me as a little spooky.

How Google Web History Works

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Google Web History Helps You Remember Where You've Been

Google archives on their servers all of the search queries you've made on Google's Web site during the times you are logged onto your Google account and makes this information available to you in a service called Google Web History. Don't want Google saving your Web searches on their servers? You can log off of your Google account. Searches you've made while logged out of your account will not appear on your Google Web History pages. Bear in mind, that doesn't necessarily mean Google has stopped archiving your search queries. It only means they've stopped giving you access to them. Keep in mind as well that the only way anyone other than you can see your Google Web History is if they somehow manage to gain access to your Google account password.

If, for whatever reason, you don't want to log off your Google account but you still want your Web surfing activity to not show on your Google Web History pages you can pause your Google Web History tracking by going to Google Web History and clicking the Pause link on the left side of the page. Later, if you want, you can go back to the same page and click Resume and Google will begin again making your browsing history available to you.

Just below the Pause link is the Remove Items link. If you click that Google gives you some boxes you can tick next to items to be removed. At the top of the Remove Items page is an option to clear your entire Google Web History.

One thing that's obviously advantageous about this somewhat spooky Google service is your ability to access it from any computer connected to the Internet anywhere in the world. All you need to do is log on to your Google account and there it is.

You can enhance your Google Web History service by installing the Google toolbar on your browser. With Google's toolbar installed on your browser Google Web History will show you a lot more information like Web page visits. But it's not enough just to have the Google toolbar installed on your browser you also must have the PageRank tool activated in the toolbar for Google to allow you to take advantage of these enhancements. For help locating this tool have a look at my post on Google Page Rank and look at the third text box down entitled How to Find Your Page Rank.

Here's a link to an add-on that will make Google Web History work with the Google Chrome browser.

Here is a link to the Google Web History sign-up page.

I Still Love "Spooky" Google

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You May Be Spooky Google But I Love you

So O.K. so at first glance Google's Google Web History looks a little spooky. But the truth is everything about Google is a little spooky when you stop to think about it.

The more Google products you use, the more information Google collects about everything you do online including your search history that we've just been talking about, your emails with your Gmail account and the blogs and news sites you read on their services. Google tracks which videos you watch on YouTube, your news alerts, tasks, and even shopping lists. Google knows more about you than your Grandmother does. To get a handle on how much information you are sharing with Google, log into your Google account and go to and look around. Google Dashboard was launched in November of 2009. And I have to give Google credit for helping us to understand how much of our information we are sharing with them. And I trust that they are sharing with us all of the information we are sharing with them.

I love Google. I trust Google and use many of their products and services and recommend them to my friends and family including Google Web History. So Larry and Sergey, if you would like to consider investing in, my home phone number and mailing address is... Oh but you already know that don't you.

Just a joke. Hey, Google I love you. I really do. Please don't hurt me.

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