On Computing

The Risks of Using Google

Joel Jasper

Article by Joel Jasper Newsletter Editorial Board


Have you ever wondered how to delete your search history from the Google servers? Did you know that every search you’ve ever performed is stored on the Google servers? This information is cross-linked to search data from other websites including YouTube, Google Maps, and other Google services you use. With all of this information, Google is able to know more about you than your closest friends. Google uses this information for advertising purposes and regularly provides user information to the government. However, there are steps you can, and should, take to secure your information. Here is the protocol, with thanks and a tip of the hat to Kim Komando.

You first must identify what is in your Google history. By going to https://google.com/history and signing in with your Google account information, you can access a list of everything you’ve ever searched for with Google. (What do you mean, you don’t have a Google account? If so, better get one.) Even if you don’t have a Google account or never sign into your Google account, Google is still tracking your history. Google is able to record your information even if you are not signed into any account by using a cookie stored in your browser.

Once you get to your history, you can browse through your searches and find them by day or by Google service. Google does show personalized search trends, which you may find interesting. To delete any unwanted search terms, click the checkbox next to the term and click the Remove items button. There is no limit to the number of terms you can delete at a time. If you want to delete all of the terms on the list, simply click the checkbox next to the Remove item button and everything on the list will be selected.

Once you remove the selected terms, click the gear icon in the upper right hand corner of the page and choose Settings. You will then have the option to turn off your Web history. This means Google will not be allowed to record your search terms in the future.

That doesn’t mean that your information is really gone. Google will still have access to your deleted search term history for the purposes of audits and other internal uses. However, Google will no longer use your information for targeted ads or to customize your search results. After eighteen months Google will partially anonymize the data, so it will no longer be associated with you.

If you are not signed into a Google account and the search terms are being stored through cookies, the history can still be removed. If you are only deleting your cookies, then Google will just start recording new information. To stop Google from recording your information completely visit www.google.com/history/optout to opt out completely.

Google isn’t the only danger to your privacy. You should also make sure your computer has updated security software; create strong passwords; and consider private browsing if you don’t want your Web activities recorded.

If you are still concerned about stored information, it might be better to avoid Google services all together. However, YouTube could be pretty difficult to skip, since there is really no alternative. There are other choices for most other Google services that do take your privacy seriously.

Great Search Sites that Are Not Google

There are plenty of search sites that can be just as good as Google. Some are even capable of doing the job better and faster and take privacy more seriously than Google. Here are some options to consider:

  1. Duckduckgo is similar to Google but does not collect any information about you when you conduct a search. Duckduckgo also offers a feature known as goodies which are special search queries that give you instant answers. Additionally, Duckduckgo breaks you out of the filter bubble, so that you are not seeing results that are tailored specifically to you and your past search history.
  2. Wolfram Alpha introduces a new way to get knowledge and answers not by searching the web, but by doing dynamic computations based on a vast collection of built-in data, algorithms, and methods.
  3. Blekko is a consumer facing search engine focused on delivering high quality, relevant, spam-free search results. Blekko focuses on quality sites rather than quantity. Its goal is not to gather all of the world’s information, but to shy away from sites with low quality information. Results from Blekko include sites whose primary purpose is information, not monetization. Blekko is more private than Google; however, it is recommended that users utilize the “superprivacy” mode for maximum privacy. This feature will block ads and takes users to secure, encrypted sites by default.
  4. IxQuick provides quick results while encrypting searches and giving users pre-approved results from other top search sites for a faster answer. Users can rate the results they receive to help others find what they’re looking for. Another great feature that IxQuick offers is that it does not record and store the user’s IP address.
  5. Yippy detects adult content and blocks it from appearing when a search is conducted using innocent search terms. This is a family-friendly platform protecting children from inappropriate content and more unseemly elements of the web.
  6. Mazoom is a mobile content search engine and will only connect you to websites that have been built with your smartphone in mind. Mazoom was designed to search for and find the mobile versions of webpages so that you do not have to pinch and zoom on your smartphone to view the content. Mazoom has a dedicated app for both iPhones and Androids.
  7. Izik is an application for tablets that allows you to search, explore and discover the Web. Content is presented in various categories to allow for minimal typing and to provide context to results. The Izik app is available on the App store, Nook by Barnes and Noble store, and Android app on Google Play.

Also, remember that there are search engines for specific topics. For example, you can use job boards when searching for jobs or finance search engines when looking for stock information. Always remember to check the site’s privacy policy first.

Questions or comments? Drop me an email: jwh3@mindspring.com