A lot of folks are freaking out about Google’s personalized search rollout to all users (even those who aren’t logged in). I’ve heard quotes like:
“Oh, great, now Google knows everything about my life.”
The fear: Personalized Search is based partly on the searches you perform and sites you visit from Google search results. That means Google is storing the searches you perform, and those visits. Therefore, Google is following you around the internet like a private detective with a camera. If you so much as pick your nose, THEY WILL KNOW.
First, Google already knew everything about your life. No reason to stress about it now.
Second, if you’re not logged in, Google’s not actually connecting your identity to your browsing history. Here’s what they do:
- Google puts a cookie on your computer. That cookie has a unique string like ‘asdf12098aAZLKJSRo092134091’ or something equally illuminating.
- Google stores your searches, and the web sites you visit, in a massive database on their servers, under ‘stuff asdf12098aAZLKJSRo092134091 likes’.
- If you search for ‘Brooks bicycle seats’ and visit iansbikebarn.com, Google remembers that, when you search for bicycle stuff, you visit Ian’s Bike Barn.
- Next time you search for something bicycle-related, Google zips over to that massive database, looks for ‘stuff asdf12098aAZLKJSRo092134091 likes’, realizes that whoever you are, you like Ian’s Bike Barn, and boosts iansbikebarn.com in the rankings.
None of this connects your name/identity to the stuff you searched.
In theory, Google could easily connect the dots. Especially if you have a Google Account. But to be honest, I don’t think Google cares that much about us as individuals. They’re far more interested in our aggregate behavior. Kind of like when you observe an ant hill: You don’t name the ants. You just decide whether you’re going to use a magnifying glass or not.