Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Google Tracking Your Searches

I'm in two minds about new Google Web History which launched about a week ago. The new feature lets you store your entire Google web history online.

I have been using it, and I must say that it's a pretty useful service, in terms of being able to find something you've searched for and didn't bother to bookmark, only to discover you need it later.

In terms of the privacy issues involved, Google says they encrypt all the data and that you're the only one who can access it. You can also pause the service at any time and delete items. However, the obvious question is: do you trust Google enough to give it your complete personalised search activity? When combined with Google Bookmarks, Gmail and other services, this gives Google access to a great deal of your personal information and preferences.

The future advantages for advertising are clear. Apparently Google will eventually layer on a tagging capability to enable individuals to categorise and share searches (in a similar way to existing social bookmarking sites I imagine), and then it will be possible to begin Tagvertising.

People do tend to tell their search engines some things about themselves that they probably wouldn't tell anyone else, or at least they might tell their search engine first.

It could be argued that, unless you have something to hide, the new features are harmless, and you can always choose not to use Google (if it's possible to do that online these days) or any of its personalised services.

What do you think? Does it disturb you to see all your search activity stored and displayed by Google, and that Google knows so much about you? Do you trust Google to hold and use your information in a way that is only beneficial to you, or does it hand Google too much power? I'd love to know your thoughts.


Judy O'Connell said...

EPIC 2015, and the personalised information construct is just getting closer!

Yes, I think that many will be concerned, but that there is little that is going to stop this 'digital mapping' of our lives and thoughts. The positive is that if nothing can be hidden then personal actions may become less subversive? But being practical, a digital service like this will have value to students and adults alike as we try to manage 'infoglut'.

jj said...

Good points Judy, thanks. There's no doubt that this kind of service is useful and as I said, I've been using it myself. I've used it on a number of occasions to help me out. It is a good way to help manage information overload.

The point that if nothing can be hidden, then personal actions may be less subversive is an interesting one. I do think that people will always find a way to be subversive if they want to though.

Not that it applies in this situation yet, but it also kind of reminds me of the debate about having video cameras in public places recording people's actions. It may help to deter criminal behaviour, but there is also the 'big brother factor' in play. What people didn't count on initially however, was that many people now have their own cameras these days (mobile phones etc), so the watchers are also able to be watched.