Yes, friends! Just when you thought you’d cleared your browser cache and disabled your browser’s history, Google helpfully offers up something for your wife’s divorce attorney to subpoena!
According to Forrester analyst (and apparent “Holy Grail of Search” enthusiast) Charlene Li, analysts are just the sort of people who might find it useful. The underlying idea is that by tracking what you’ve searched for previously, Google can tailor the results based on previous searches.
But then, of course, if you forget to log out, the results of your next search for “boring+work+research+topic” may be flavored with “Anna+Kournikova+upskirt”, “Jessica+Alba+accidental+breast+exposure”, and “painful+itching+rash+testicles”. Yes, the service apparently lets you go back and delete any queries that you might not have wanted tracked. But it’s always the trails of data that you forget about that are the ones that come back to bite you.
In the end, though, Google’s offering is neither unique or ground-breaking. Many other services have provided this kind of customized searching for a while. And as even Charlene Li points out, not that many “average users” will use the service.
Maybe I’m one of the “privacy fearing loonies” noted by a commenter on John Battelle’s blog entry about My Search History — although its the lack of privacy I really fear. But my greater concern comes from implications of the not-terribly-clueful quotes from Google’s VP of Engineering, Alan Eustace:
With “My Search,” however, information stored internally with Google is no different than the search data gathered through its Google.com search engine, Eustace said. “This product itself does not have a significant impact on the information that is available to legitimate law enforcement agencies doing their job.”
Eustace may have misspoken… but really he didn’t. According to the “My Search History (Beta) – Privacy FAQ,” you may feel free to edit the logs, but Google is still keeping copies of the unedited searches. So there you have it: a comprehensive log of your searches tied to your identity, available to law enforcement bearing warrants and litigious people bearing civil subpoenas. Signing up for the service simply provides them an easier way to wrap the data into a tidy duces tecum package!
So, in other words, you are already using My Search History, and you didn’t even know it!
Once again, Google has steped in a big pile of privacy crap without a plan.