Google Personalized Search: A little FUD removal

Ian Lurie

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.
Not really.
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:

  1. Google puts a cookie on your computer. That cookie has a unique string like ‘asdf12098aAZLKJSRo092134091’ or something equally illuminating.
  2. Google stores your searches, and the web sites you visit, in a massive database on their servers, under ‘stuff asdf12098aAZLKJSRo092134091 likes’.
  3. If you search for ‘Brooks bicycle seats’ and visit, Google remembers that, when you search for bicycle stuff, you visit Ian’s Bike Barn.
  4. 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 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.

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Ian Lurie
CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at

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  1. Thanks for the dose of reality, Ian. I remember when Gmail first came out, some (very naive people) were freaking out about Google “reading” your e-mails in order to serve contextual ads.

  2. Finally, someone who gets it – I know a fair few people who think that Google are going after them like Shia LaBeouf in Eagle Eye or something.
    Google don’t care about you, they care about your search habits.
    If it means you’re paranoid about clicking that penis enlargement ad that is served to you, maybe it’s no bad thing.

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