My shameful search history on Google

Hey, I'm guessing yours isn't a whole lot better, Snooki fan
March 6, 2012 12:12 pm

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A few hours before midnight on Feb. 29, I was frantically deleting my Google history. That ill-advised search for videos of David Hasselhoff flying. Delete. Why was I looking for "pedophile jewelry"? Delete. Cat hits wall? How have I searched for that more than two dozen times?

My life flashed before my eyes. Every video I've watched. Everything I've been curious about the past four months -- boom.

Some have likened our search histories to a diary. It is as close to a record of unfiltered thought as you can come. On Facebook, we untag. On Twitter, even when we're ranting about the recently deceased, we obey the character limit. Google has no such constraints.

I often complain it makes us more dependent on external sources for knowledge (and means that libraries these days are solely the resort of strange bearded men with UFO theories). But it remains a wonder of the world. Google will answer all the questions you never dared ask anywhere else.

All you have to do is type your query into the blank, expressionless box. The only result might be from a man in Topeka who posted on a message board in 1998, but the number of questions that have been posted only once is startlingly small. Not only does someone out there have the answer -- you aren't even the first to ask.

The only trade-off is privacy.

Curiosity once killed the cat. Now it just means the cat gets some very pointedly targeted ads.

But Google's new privacy policy reminds us of the price of all this free information. With Internet searches, we thought we could go through life without being That Guy Who Asks What This Growth Might Be and How to Deal With It. But if we're logged in and have enabled search history, Google knows. And if we're not logged in, Google still tracks our searches by IP address.

Now Google has consolidated our information -- the new "Online Bill of Rights" is more a series of guidelines -- so that data we supplied in one context, say, Searching for Amusing Videos at 3 a.m., are melded with information we supplied in another, wildly different context, say, Constructing an Immaculate Public Profile for Work-Related Reasons. And so we get ads for things like Video Series on Coming to Terms With Probably Being an Ax Murderer and Metamucil. If we want to use one of Google's services in isolation, without being reminded of who we are on all the others, we have to log out.

Alexandra Petri writes for The Washington Post.
First Published 2012-03-05 23:26:52

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