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June 4, 2010

Why Google Web History Is Enabled by Default

When you create a Google Account, the option to store all your queries and the search results you click on is enabled by default. Google Web History keeps track of all your Google searches and associates them with your account so that Google can personalize search results.

Jonathan McPhie, Product Manager at Google, explains why Google Web History is enabled by default:
We've found that it is difficult to articulate the usefulness of having Web History turned on without trying it out for yourself. This is because the changes are subtle and vary from person to person. Having this feature on by default allows users to enjoy the benefits of personalized search without going out of their way to turn it on. And this option is one of only two that we show when signing up for a new account (the other is "stay signed in"), so we feel like it has a fair amount of prominence in the process.

Google Web History can be temporarily paused or even removed from your Google Account. Initially, Google Personalized Search was an optional feature and users had to manually enable it. Now Google personalizes search results even for users that aren't logged in. If you're not signed in, Google personalizes search results using "up to 180 days of signed-out search activity linked to your browser's cookie, including queries and results you click."


  1. thanks, didn't know the last part about user's not logged in..That's scary! What do you suggest? Does clearing out the browser cookies/ temp files etc. remove that?

    Appreciate suggestions


  2. well it's good though.I like it when google saves my history of search term that I I put much trust for google in any way possible. :-)

  3. @Varun:

    You still have some options when you're logged out:

    - periodically clear your cookies
    - click on "web history" and opt-out of personalized search
    - use the private browsing mode of your browser for searching (e.g.: Chrome's incognito mode)

  4. When Google Search keeps "up to 180 days of signed-out search activity linked to your browser's cookie", I take it the cookie functions as a key. The key lets your browser retrieve the actual search history from Google's servers.

    So, when you clear cookies, you are only trashing the key. Without the key, it is no longer possible to retrieve your search history using the browser.

    The remaining privacy risk is that Google can still retrieve it on their end.

    Question: When you opt out of personalized search, does Google Search stop collecting your signed-out search history, or does it just take away your key?

  5. @Alex, thanks for the inputs.

  6. @Scrvpvlvs:

    That's a very good question, but I'm afraid you can't stop Google from storing server logs. Each log entry includes your query, your IP, your cookie ID and other information about your browser and operating system.

    What you can do is to prevent Google from associating search history with your Google account (disable Google Web History) and prevent Google from using search history to personalize results (opt-out from personalized search when you're logged out).

  7. Sounds like Facebook's communications wrote this for Google. Enabling this feature by default is not respectful of a user's privacy. It should be off by default.

  8. Why is this paranoia about search history? it's useful feature that improves search results and I like having that history available when logging in to my other machine, and as mentioned in the post you could pause or even clear it whenever you want.

  9. I remember turning this off when I first created my account years ago. About a year ago, I decided to turn web history (more like I forgot about it and re-discovered it). I haven't noticed any real improvements in my searches, but occasionally it's useful to help find some useful result from a few weeks back, and I like seeing the statistical data about my searches.

  10. @Anonymous - paranoia one.. Yes it's a useful feature. No one's arguing about that. But let layman user(s) disable it as easily as clicking a button. For geeks, clearing out cookies etc isn't big deal. But for an average user, it is! And Google is catering to all types of users, right?

  11. LOL@People voluntarily giving an ADVERTISING agency some of your most private and sensitive to your identity, information... so they can profile and profit from "you." Do you SERFS (some of you are slaves!) realize that they SELL or leak this information to 3rd party/GOVERNMENT agencies?

    Yep it's allllll a huge "conspiracy," NOBODY is tracking you, nobody wants an individual profile on users "habits," so that they can exploit "you," in the future? Yep fascism, racism, dictatorships and the ideals of a feudally based society, where the RICH CONTROL us for their gain, NOPE that's long in the past and everyone wants to just get along in peace...
    When are you people going to wake the fsck up? WE STILL LIVE IN A FEUDAL SOCIETY! WTF do you think that ONLY the wealthy can (reality) get elected to high(er) public office? Why does it cost MILLIONS to run for mayor of a medium/large city? What about running for congressional office? Yep no "average" earning Joes/Janes in office either. It's always "well I USED to be broke/avg like U guys, but now I'm 'successful' so I'm more 'qualified' in opinion and social stature; people will take me more seriously than YOU..." Yes those are our "representatives," you cannot have a "valid" opinion unless you're affluent huh?

    So you give up your "profile" and do you get in return, "better" search results??? LMFAO! That's your reward, while they (numerous corps) reap MILLIONS in revenue, which is used to further "profile" (U know like a biologists/psychologist) U like an ANIMAL that they can eventually learn to control, manipulate, and exploit for PROFIT. I wish there was a place where the stupid were segregated from the rest of the active-thinking, responsible citizenry; oh wait... it's called "social-class!" haha More money = better person huh? THIS IS our current societal model. If you're not affluent, your opinion means less...

  12. Does anyone know how to disable 'Web History' for Google searches now?

    Is tracking your search/surfing habits via Google an imposed, permanent feature - unless you have a Google acct to manage the privacy invasion?

    I'm using Firefox 9.0.1

    The only other option I've found is an add-on: Google Disconnect 1.1.0

    ...however, it only blocks Google widgets from sending intel back.

  13. I can't BELIEVE anyone would ever want this turned on. Ever looked at your own search history? I have. Every stumbled on someone elses? I have. And guess what? It is never pretty. Turns out everyone is either gay, crazy, dying, sexually perverted, or all of the above. Thanks Google!


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