When I mention Google web history to people, they think of web cookies and the items they typed in the search box. Many people are comfortable with their browser storing this information. If not, they delete their browser cookies and cache. However, Google can capture a lot more than those info nuggets. In fact, they can use that data to refine your future search results. This is all part of Google’s effort to deliver personalized search.
To start, Google web history is only available for people who have a Google account. Some common properties that require an account include Gmail, Google Reader, and Google Analytics to name a few. Other Google services such as their search engine or Google maps don’t require you to have a relationship with them.
What is Google Web History
This free service remembers where you’ve been on the web when you’re logged into your Google account. You might think of Google web history as a password protected online audit trail of your web activity. Although it doesn’t store the page contents, it does grab the URL of pages you’ve visited along with a timestamp. If you’re accessing a secure page such as those with https://, your activity isn’t recorded. It also records your Google searches.
Although the web history can include your Google searches and visited pages this doesn’t mean it will record everything by default. There are some requirements. For Google to record web page visits, you need to install the Google toolbar for your browser and enable the Page Rank and Page Info option. Without the toolbar, only your searches will be saved.
Another variable is when you opened your Google account. By default, Google now enables this feature for new accounts. It’s possible you missed this text when you signed up.
How do I see my Google Web History
1. Go to http://www.google.com/
2. In the top right corner, look for the link My Account. You may need to Sign In first.
3. From your Google Account page, click Web History from the Services column on the right.
If Google has been capturing your data, you should see results like the screen snap below.
What Does Google Web History Show?
Like most Google products, the screen is nicely organized in thirds. The left column represents different Google properties you can scan or actions on your content. The middle section is the main area and provides the details. The far right provides a calendar if you wish to refine your content to a specific day.
The main content area depicts my web history for July 30th in chronological order. There are three types of items represented, which equate to the numbered markers.
Item 1 - An example of a Google search. I was searching for the Google toolbar for IE.
Item 2 - This is an example of a web page I visited that day. Since I’ve enabled Page Rank and Info with my Google toolbar, non-Google pages such as the Weather Underground page are logged.
Item 3 - This is an example of a bookmark as shown by the gold star. You can also add notes or labels to bookmarks for classification.
Acting on the Data
One nice feature of the service is that you can act on your stored data. You can use the search textbox to find a site you can’t remember. For example, while searching for a restaurant recently, I reviewed many online menus. Later, I needed to find which of the menus had a salmon entrée.
Google also does make the categorization easier with the links on the left side. An item to note is these side links relate to Google properties. As example, my visit to the New York Times site was not categorized as News. Only stories I read from Google News would show in this section.
Another feature that will appeal to people is being able to bookmark a page after the fact. How many times have you visited a site and forgot to note or bookmark it? With web history, you can mark an item at any time. Google provides a bookmark button at the bottom of each page. You can even export your bookmarks.
Building a Web Profile
In some regards, it’s great to be able to use someone else’s servers to store your web history and bookmarks. You’re not dependent on being on a specific computer. I can do research at my public library and see the information when I return home. It’s also nice that Google can leverage this data to make your future Google searches more relevant based on items I’ve viewed. Even the Trends section is interesting by spotting places you frequently visit or your top queries.
This personalization also raises concerns for people. There are plenty of people who dislike this tracking behavior. They don’t think anyone should track your web movements in this fashion whether it’s Google or their government. While Google has stated how they use the data and how it can benefit you, people still wonder what other inferences they might draw based on your activity. Certainly, they are not the first service to use previous transactions for recommendations, nor will they be the last. Just think of the number of online retailers that use past purchases for recommendations.
Stop the Data Capture & Erase Google Web History
Google has provided several options for people to remove data. You can easily check items and delete them from your web history. This is a useful feature around holidays where maybe you don’t want tracks left at online retailers. Of course, this really only applies if you didn’t log out of your Google account and someone knew how to access the page. There is also a feature where you can pause the service from your web history page.
At some point, you may decide you don’t want Google to retain your web history. If that’s the case, you can delete your data.
1. Go to http://www.google.com/
2. Sign into your account.
3. Click the My Account link in the top right.
4. Click the Edit link to the right of My services.
5. Click Delete Web History.
6. Read the warning on the page.
7. Check the box Yes, I want to permanently remove Web history from my Google account.
8. Enter your current Google password.
9. Click Remove Web History.
I found the Google Web History both useful and annoying. I think it has potential for many people especially those that don’t use online bookmarking services. I was annoyed by the number of times I had to provide my password again even though I had not logged out. This may be an additional security feature to prevent wandering eyes from seeing your history.
- URL: http://www.google.com/
Related Internet Privacy Articles
- Web Server Logs and Your Information
- Google Help Page: How to delete browser search history
Last Updated (Saturday, 19 June 2010 10:28)