Google as the Transparent Big Brother: What is Google Search History All About?
A little known and unfrequented area of Google contains some of our most private information. It is connected to a Google Account when logged in and records search history and other behavioral information.
Google has positioned itself as the transparent big brother of our personal information. A large part of Google’s success rides on an information platform built with very personal information and behavioral tendencies. What we search for. How frequently we search. How long we spend online. It has worked primarily because users have bought into the “Don’t Be Evil” philosophy espoused by Google’s founders.
For many of us, Google is now an extension of our own brain. If I can’t remember something or need help explaining a concept to someone, I pull out my phone and ask Google for answers. And most of the time, it gets me where I want to go without much trouble. For the everyday user, this is a seamless experience. Some of us are using Google for business and relying on more and more services that meld our personal and business lives into one.
Tracking or recording behavior is not a new concept. Each search we perform, as with any online behavior is logged in so many places – wireless routers, ISP servers, our own computers – that we shouldn’t care about Google keeping tabs on us, right?
I think to a certain extent this is true. When we knowingly provide revealing information about ourselves online, in each instance, we are essentially giving permission to track our behavior. But there are two major differences between our IP address navigation breadcrumbs and our historical behavioral information being accessible with a single password.
Google’s Mission was Re-stated in 2012
I’m not paranoid about Google tracking me, in fact, I think I’ve been okay with it since it was Eric Schmidt announced the defection from the “Don’t Be Evil” philosophy on NPR in 2012. It just makes me feel a little exposed and with the MySpace data breach revealed this week, it makes me think about password expiration and double authentication prospects on the horizon.
Check out some of the specifics below on exactly what Google History warehouses. You’ll probably be surprised by a few items.
How Do I Access Google History?
Check out your history at history.google.com. You’ll need to be logged into a Google Account to view your history. Google History is enabled by default when you create a Google Account.
What’s Actually Recorded in Google History?
Search History – see cross-device search history on Google. See when and what you searched and where you went.
Voice & Audio Activity – Listen to audio searches and voice requests you made through your phone. Voice command “OK, Google” three times to enable. You
can disable in the setting area of the Google History.
Device Data – Logged data from your specific Android device.
Location History – Track yourself and see where you’ve been. Show in specific time ranges or by date. Must be enabled on phone to allow tracking.
YouTube Watch History – Defaults to show all YouTube videos watched including time accessed and assorted reverse chronologically by date.
YouTube Search History – Logs search history by time and device access information
I’m Freaking Out, How Do I Change My Google Privacy Settings?
Go to https://myaccount.google.com/privacycheckup/ to update the Privacy Settings associated with your Google Account. You can pause or delete user history recorded in Google History, but it doesn’t turn off Google’s background tracking, just your account interface information.
What is Google History Useful For?
As a parent, my first thought is parental control. It allows you a secondary level of reassurance for precocious kids. If you’ve disabled your own browser history, it gives you another level of back-up in a pinch. I’m still not sure why you would ever need to keep audio recordings.
What Else is Google Tracking?
Obviously more than we initially thought. Privacy is important to Google, but their business model has evolved from a search engine into a data mining operation. We accepting a certain degree of snooping and kudos to Google for giving us a glimpse into all the things they track, but imagine what else they might be hiding.
I’m just hoping Google doesn’t come up with a YouTube Lifetime Milestone Marker to track how many hours of video I’ve watched. It’s just one of those things it’s better I don’t know.
About the Author
Ben Lindberg, CR is a partner in Lion Tree Group, a digital marketing agency in Madison, WI. His expertise is in multi-platform brand messaging with a focus on inspiring homeowners. As an industry insider, he has walked the walk and developed a winning business campaign strategy from experience with one of Wisconsin’s largest remodeling companies. His agency specializes in digital design and branding updates. He regularly blogs at his company’s blog: The Bark and Roar.