Google already knows I’m going to write this post.
After all, they know everything else about me. And you.
This week Google rolled out Dashboard - a feature that allows Google users to review all of their web, image, video, and news searches, all of the email they sent (if they use Gmail), all of their chats, contacts, every map search and even every document they’ve shared on Google Docs. This history goes all the way back to 2006.
If you use Google – and most of us do – you can review everything you’ve ever done online if Google tools were used. As Hiawatha Bray, tech reporter at the Boston Globe notes:
“Dashboard lets registered Google users see what the company knows about them. If you’ve got a Google account, just punch up www.google.com/dashboard, and get ready to feel your skin crawl. Google knows just about everything about me. No deep, dark secrets; just thousands of tiny data points which, when put together, could provide a pretty thorough biography. Start with standard Web search data, the backbone of Google’s business. Every search you perform is recorded and preserved for future analysis, to help Google improve its service. Study a person’s searches over months or years, and you can pretty much write his life story.”
I wish my searches were as bland as Hiawatha’s. Ouch. Thankfully, Google allows you to remove some of those searches that you don’t want recorded (or remembered). But how many people are going to go through the effort of sorting through pages and pages of results for every image, web, video, book, blog, and news search they’ve conducted over the last three years?
Some of the things I learned about myself while reviewing Dashboard? Other than it provides evidence that I’m stranger than I thought possible?
- In August of 2006, I was doing a lot of images searches on sunsets. I have no recollection of why, but I did image searches on “sunsets” on four separate occasions during a one week stretch. Clearly, my feminine side was in full control that month.
- My search history on “news” is filled with search terms like “NFL point spreads” and “NFL records” and “NFL insider stats.” These searches almost always start on Fridays and began in earnest in September. It might seem like I have a gambling addiction, but I’m simply in an office pool that picks games vs. the spread.
- On July 10, 2006, I made several searches related to the cartoon character “Tintin.” And the next day, I did a search on “Hotlips Houlihan.” For those that can remember that far back, Hotlips was a character on the TV show “M*A*S*H.” I don’t remember why, but it kind of makes me nervous… Hotlips Houlihan? Really?
- Also back in 2006, I used to visit the “Captain Humphrey’s Project” web site. The site is now defunct (I just did a search – which will be captured forever). But it was a web TV show that featured four New Yorkers who pretended that they were preparing for one of them to circumnavigate the globe in the world’s smallest sailboat. The videos were hilarious.
- According to Google maps, I asked for directions to an address in Shelton, Connecticut on January 26, 2007. I don’t remember if I ever drove down there or why I would have gone. I don’t know anyone in Shelton, CT. I think it must have been a new business meeting that never went anywhere.
- I search for lots and lots of logos.
Obviously, Google is recording a lot of what I do in private, which is a big reminder that my privacy is but an illusion. When you’re surfing the web, your every move is being monitored, recorded, and cataloged. Big brother – whether it is Google, Yahoo, Microsoft or Facebook – is watching.
Right now, Google is keeping this information private – and to their credit – allowing their users access to it through Dashboard. And to edit and remove items they don’t want.
But wouldn’t it be even better if Google allowed us to opt out of having our results saved altogether?
They won’t do this, of course, because the information is much too valuable. This exercise in releasing Dashboard is really about showcasing that Google cares by giving us the ability to manually edit our profiles. They know that the vast majority of people won’t use Dashboard and that most people don’t have the time or the technology savvy to sort through their profiles.
But this should be a reminder to us all – what you do online is not private. Even if you do it on the privacy of your own computer in the privacy of your own home.