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Google "Personalized Search"

I noticed recently some (new?) feature of Google where it stores your search history and then personalizes your search results somehow based upon your stored history. When using this, Google by default stores all search results any time you do a search while logged in. You can also browse through your history and see all your past searches. Apparently this "feature" was automatically enabled on my account, because I sure don't remember enabling this in my Google account at any time.

This either crosses the line or is really close to doing so, in my book. I don't want some corporation storing my search results. It's worse than someone looking over my shoulder while I'm using the computer (which I also hate); it's like a couple thousand people I don't know, staring over my shoulder, taking notes. I don't know what Google is doing with all that data. Well, strike that, I can take a good guess: making money from it, somehow, probably involving selling the information to ad companies or using it internally to target ads at people. The concept of "targeted advertising" makes me sick to my stomach. It's bad enough being manipulated by people trying to squeeze money out of me. But being manipulated via an automated human-manipulating computer program is a totally abhorrent thought to me. It's an unethical use of computers in my opinion. Especially in any case where it's thrown at me without my knowledge or explicit consent.

You can disable (Google calls it "pause") the stored search "feature", and you can remove items from your search history, or clear the whole search history. But again, who knows what's going on there. Is it really being cleared? Is it just being hidden from your view? Quoth this page:

What happens when I pause the service, remove items, or delete the Personalized Search service? You can choose to stop storing your searches in Personalized Search either temporarily or permanently, or remove items, as described in Personalized Search Help. If you remove items, they will be removed from the service and will not be used to improve your search results. As is common practice in the industry, Google also maintains a separate logs system for auditing purposes and to help us improve the quality of our services for users. For example, we use this information to audit our ads systems, understand which features are most popular to users, improve the quality of our search results, and help us combat vulnerabilities such as denial of service attacks.

Emphasis mine. "Removed from the service"? Not "Removed from the servers", eh? Sounds like a bunch of weasel words if I ever heard any.

This crap should have been disabled by default, not enabled. If it should even exist in the first place. This makes me really happy I stopped using Gmail. I basically avoid logging in to Google at all times, at this point. And I have Firefox set to delete cookies every time I close my browser.

October 15, 2006 @ 5:25 PM PDT
Cateogory: Rants
Tags: Google, Rant


Quoth Steveno on October 15, 2006 @ 6:08 PM PDT

This isn't a "new" feature from Google but its been around for a while. I totally agree though, it should be disabled by default, and I too feel it crosses the privacy line. I might have to change my Firefox settings as well. I'm still looking for a decent Gmail replacement short of hosting my own mail. Nice blog.

Steve Dibb
Quoth Steve Dibb on October 16, 2006 @ 4:17 AM PDT

I agree with you. I hate advertising of almost every kind, and I really hate data retention.

As far as targeted marketing though, I'd say that I don't like it if it's unsolicited. I do like stuff like recommendations engines on things like Amazon and Netflix. Those help me find stuff I might be interested in.

But, for everything else, I've just grown to ignore it.

Quoth Brian on October 16, 2006 @ 4:27 AM PDT

Yes, unsolicited, that's the key. I don't mind going to, buying something, and having it say "I see you're buying X. Did you know we have a very similar Y that's pretty popular?" Or "If you buy Z too, we'll throw this other stuff in for half price". I do mind seeing ads when I'm not even shopping and have no desire to spend money.

Steveno, I don't know of any hosting plans that are better than Gmail, sadly. There are lots of advantages to hosting your own email, but I pay $100 a year for my web site and email hosting, which is rather a disadvantage unless you feel like spending money.