Is There a Permanent Record of Everything I’ve Ever Googled?

The first two paragraphs of this article on cnn.com sent a major chill down my spine. Is everything a person Googles recorded in perpetuity? I’ve Googled things like “how to build a nuclear bomb” and “synthesis of crystal meth”, not to mention things involving some pretty deviant sexual activities. Not that I’m going to do any of these things, but I have Googled them. Can they come back to haunt me years from now if I do something to piss off the wrong people? The prospect is disconcerting, to say the least.

It’s unclear from reading that article whether the laptop he used contained incriminating evidence or if Google provided it.

I would be surprised if Google was keeping a record of every search that someone has done. First off, how would they know the search was from you and not someone else who used your computer?

If you have set your Google Preferences to indicate that you do not wish Google to record your search history, then it won’t. (Unless they’re lying to us, and I doubt that).

Er? I don’t see that option. Have I gone blind?

Sorry, my bad. I’m thinking of Personal Search History, which is stored in one’s own browser if requested.

To prevent Google recording your searches you simply need to disable cookies when searching.

Not sure if I missed something, but the story seemed to suggest they found this on the person’s laptop, not a report from Google. My computer keeps all sorts of history, pages visited, documents opened, etc. Every once in a while a GQ thread will pop up about deleting personal history and whatnot–it struck me that that is where the prosecutors found their evidence.

Not that Google isn’t caching your search history, just that I don’t think that story points to it. The BBC has covered that before, but I can’t remember the right search terms to find it.
ETA: er… what Dolphinboy said. (sorry)

I don’t know whether or not Google stores that much information for any length of time, but the story sounds like the information was pulled off his laptop, not from Google’s servers. Depending on your browser, it can store search history for a long time. I’ve seen searches come up in my history that were done months ago.

If you’ve used the same browser for a long time, they can probably tie together a search history. Cookies and all that. They can also tell what you click on in the search results.

Even if you move around to different computers, if you log into google.com (if it says “Sign Out” in the upper right corner of google.com), they probably can and do keep your search history. You will be logged in if you use Gmail, for example.

If you move around to different computers and don’t log into Google, and don’t use Gmail, there’s not much way to track you.

That will keep your computer from recording searches, but that’s not going to stop google from doing it.

Somewhere out there there is an article that featured a woman who was identified by her Google searches for local businesses, family, medical conditions, etc. I can’t find the story (some creepy results from combinations/variations of “woman found recognized Google search”), but I did find:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/6692063.stm

Articles like that one just remind me to clear and wash all my tracks with some regularity. CCleaner works quite well for that.

Rhythmdvl, are you referring to this article, in which the reporter identifies a woman by her searches when a database of searches by AOL subscribers was accidentally released in 2006?

Ohhhhh yyyeeeahhhhhhh…! :smack: That’s it. Not Google, so sorry for muddying up the thread. Thanks for finding it!

My, now, obligatory link to Anonymizing Google’s Cookie!

CMC +fnord!

There is your google web history: http://www.google.com/history/ . It only exists if you have a google account (which you probably do). You can probably find some embarassing stuff in there :slight_smile:

If I might semi-hijack for a moment, I’ve often wondered about something similar to this.

I’ve heard that individual websites keep records of what IPs contact them, but what about the users’ ISP? Do they keep a record of what IPs have been contacted by the ones they issue? Is that even feasable? I’ve always pondered this nightmare scenario of pissing off the wrong person at the cable company and having them release my browsing history to the world. :slight_smile:

There is a company called Phorm that has been sounding out the 3 largest IPs in the UK - BT, Virgin Media and TalkTalk - to intercept every request you make in order to target advertisements to you.

However the company involved has a history in spyware and has been extremely evasive over some of their technology. It has been alleged by opponents of Phorm that far from just targetting adverts, the technology can actually personally identify you.

Even if you live in the US it might be worth reading about Phorm because NebuAd and Front Porch have been doing the same in the US.

I know opponents are sceptical about the claim that your data isn’t kept and is anonymous because a profile of your browsing habits is built up over time.

If you value your privacy and security when using the internet read the whole article especially this choice quote from Kent Ertugrul, the CEO of Phorm.

That software can clean your system of cookies and history, which you can also do for the most by setting the appropriate options in IE and Firefox. I think it’s hard to completely get rid of the history in IE though.

However, unless your IP address changes frequently Google could still probably put together a search and click history for you. If you use Google Toolbar they definitely can.

A slight case of paranoia about this is what has kept me from using either Google or Yahoo for email. I don’t want an account that links together all my searches and I really don’t want one that links my searches to my emails.

Now I’m starting to wonder if I should reboot my modem weekly, in order to get my IP to reassign a new address.

You can clear your web history there, and “pause” it from recording any future searches. I just did this.

Kind of fascinating, though–you can run Google Trends on your own search history to see what you search for most, when you tend to search (time of day, day of week, month, etc.). I learned that I search no less than 21 times a day most days, and am often in the 70+ range per day on Mondays and Tuesdays.