The Inquirer-Home

Google will know what you searched last summer

Unveils new "Web History" feature
Wed Apr 25 2007, 10:58
WEB SERVICES giant Google quietly introduced "Google Web History" a feature which lets you take a look at your own web browsing trail, while the Corporation records every step you make.

The service will be of help to locate and re-load pages visited recently. In the words of Google "you can view and search across the full text of the pages you've visited, including Google searches, web pages, images, videos and news stories. You can also manage your web activity and remove items from your web history at any time". What they don't say yet is...

"Every breath you take,
Every move you make,
Every bond you break,
Every step you take,
I'll be watching you",

... because that belongs to The Police.

The indexing starts the moment you agree to the terms of service

A bit worrying is the fact that Google says that your web history will slowly begin to affect the results you get. In other words, the folks at Mountain View risk making the search engine "too personal", and the same search won't bring the same results for two different people, as each one's results will be influenced by their particular search history. In the words of the firm "Web History helps deliver more personalized search results based on what you've searched for on Google and which sites you've visited. You might not notice a big impact on your search results early on, but they should steadily improve over time as you use Web History."

This might sound nice, but what if I want to tell someone "do a search for xyz and the answer for your question is the 2nd result shown"? That would be completely meaningless if results will change for each user. Of course, the solution is to search without logging in, but that is something not easy to avoid, specially if you have multiple browser tabs and you do web searches while logged in to GMail, for instance.

Of course, this is possible due to Google's incredible database and data mining operation. If you think about it, they are just letting you take a peek at the same data that is probably available in raw form to law enforcement or intelligence agencies, only that the latter probably has your IP address and not your full Google user name -but associating both can be trivial-. Again, I quote Google: "Which sites do you visit frequently? How many searches did you do between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.? Web History can tell you about these and other interesting trends on your web activity". Gee, and where will all the data of the URLs you visit be sent to?. You bet, Google's mothership.

But relax, it only indexes your web trail if you install the Google Toolbar, which in turn sends every page you visit to the firm's headquarters, but in that case only if you enable the "PageRank" feature. In the company's own words:"To include the web pages you visit in your web history, you need to install Toolbar. During the installation, click to accept the PageRank feature, which sends information about pages you visit to Google."

The new "Google History" service can be reached over here (log-in with your Google/GMail account required). Suddenly, the "history" tab in the SeaMonkey sidebar tab -stored locally in your computer rather than on a remote server- looks a lot nicer than Google's "Big Brother-esque" alternative. µ

See Also
SeaMonkey 1.1 is a good Firefox alternative
Google and Amazon: the next Media Empire?
Google opens regional LatAm HQ in Argentina
Taxman uses Google Earth Pro to nab tax dodgers

1997: IBM unveils WBI intelligent agent
IBM WBI OS/2 announcement
The Unofficial WBI story


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