Google tracks your search history. How concerned should I be about this?

04 Oct

It depends on what you search for and how that information might be used against you. There a number of use cases in which that data becomes “weaponized.” Consider four possible groups that do have or could get access to the data:

  1. Google. I’ll assume for now that Google’s interests are primarily commercial in nature. Knowing what you search for could potentially improve your search experience and help Google deliver more targeted advertisements. I’d say this is mostly positive for you.
  2. Google sells the data to 3rd Party marketing firms. I don’t believe Google does this today but I’m not certain and even if they don’t, they could potentially do this in the future. While I might be able to have some comfort with Google’s handling of my personal information, I’m way less comfortable with the myriad of marketing companies who can be more insidious. I’d say this is neutral to negative for you.

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  1. The law enforcement community subpoenas the data. This goes back to what I said in my first sentence. What are you searching for that you wouldn’t want the LE community knowing (whether legal or not)? If that causes you concern, you should learn more about steps you can take to protect your privacy while searching. The easiest solution here is to start using DuckDuckGo which has been widely respected for not capturing any of their searcher’s search history. In general, I’d say this is neutral to negative. I can’t see the use case in which law enforcement looking at your search history is beneficial to you with the one exception that it somehow helps exonerate you if you were wrongly accused of something.
  2. Hackers get to the data. Nothing good ever comes from that. That said, if you’re worried about hackers getting access to your personal information, I’d advise you to turn off your connected devices. We have a ways to go to fully protect our online footprint. Until then, be safe out there!

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