Google has just added the biggest risk to your searching privacy to date–the new My Search History feature. It’s a cool thing, if you are the absolute only one who uses your computer or if you don’t care if anyone else sees what you’ve been searching for on the web. But, judging from the three most popular articles I’ve written so far, this is not going to fly with most users. These articles — Clearing Google Search History to Maintain Your Privacy, Keeping Private Matters Private in Google Desktop Search, and the wildly popular Voyeur Heaven: finding interesting video, sound and image files in unprotected directories — show a definite interest in being a web surfing bad boy and covering your tracks. For those angels reading this, hey, don’t get mad at me–I’m just telling it like it is.
First, let me explain Google’s My Search History. Now, when you are signed onto Google with your Google account, a new link will appear up at the top right of the page that says, “My Search History.” If you are not signed in, you won’t see it. Clicking it on will show a list of your searches in reverse chronological order, plus links to the web sites you went to see from those search results. There is a calendar feature and information on the number of visits you’ve made to a given web page, and the last time you viewed it. A search history function lets you search through the history. For more information about Google My Search History you can read its FAQ
When the announcement was made yesterday, blogger and blogger gushed over how great it is. I don’t know about that, I think a lot of people will have a problem with it. There are ways you can disable it or remove certain entries, but most people just don’t have a clue about all the particulars of using much on their computer–most people simply “Google it.” And with the extreme popularity of Gmail now, many people don’t even realize that their Gmail account is their Google account and they very well might be logged into Google.
And then there is the broader issue. This history is not stored on your local computer, but on Google’s servers. I don’t know if most Googlers are in favor of Google keeping a running history of what they’ve been searching for or what they’ve looking at. Even if you are completely innocent, you could do a search for something that tricks you into a site you shouldn’t be in. Or, someone else could sit down and your computer and search for some illegal activity while you are signed in. Who knows what authorities might get a look at look at that information someday.
Luckily, My Search History is an easy feature to turn off, or to remove entries from. Here’s how:
To remove it completely: To permanently stop using My Search History, you can delete the service by clicking the “Delete My Search History” link on your My Account page, which is accessible through the “My Account” links in the upper-right corner of your Google home page and search results pages.
To Pause it: If you don’t want any of your searches to be saved by My Search History, you can either log out of your Google Account or simply pause the service by clicking on the “Pause” link in the blue title bar of your search history page. You can then “un-pause” it whenever you want your searches to be saved again by clicking on the Resume” link. You can also edit or remove specific searches or results from the service by clicking the Remove items” link.
To remove individual entries: Whenever you’re browsing your search history page, you can click the “Remove items” link in the upper-right corner. You’ll then be in edit mode and can remove any items you don’t want included in My Search History by checking items and clicking the “Remove” button.
But don’t forget: This only applies to your history on Google’s servers, you will still need to delete your history locally. For that I can’t recommend Bob Feldman’s How-to Delete Search History guide enough. Bob is one of the leading guys in the fight for web privacy and his stuff is great.