Chart: Since I activated “Google Search History” exactly two years ago, I have used Google for 9,973 searches. I have a day-by-day record of every search and where I clicked after the search. The chart above shows my personal “trends” related to when I search. (From 10-11 PM is my “prime time.”) Starting today, Google will allow a user to record not only their search history, but a history of every website visited.
[Note: Before you read any further, let me assure you. The feature you are about to read about is something you must sign up for and activate. You can pause and resume it with a click. And you can delete it if you decide you don’t like how much information is being collected about what you do on the Internet. Okay, with that assurance, you can proceed.]
In addition to renaming “Froogle,” Google also renamed “Search History” today — as announced in the Google Blog, it’s now called Web History. (Also, Danny Sullivan explains it here. Later: A great review and some historical perspective from Anil Dash.)
I have had Google’s Search History activated since April 20, 2005 (when I read about it here), I now have a history of the 9,973 Google searches I’ve made during the past two years. When it was merely “Search History,” it detailed every search I’ve made, including the websites I chose to visit after the search. I can navigate that data in a number of ways, including a calendar view or segmented by the type of search I was making: for a map, an image, news, etc. I can view all sorts of “attention” data that show the sites I have clicked on the most following a Google search, or the times of day and night that I have made Google searches (10-11 p.m. is my biggest search hour of the day, Wednesday is my biggest day and December is my biggest month).
The newly renamed service goes beyond chronicling merely what I’ve “searched” for via Google, but now maintains a history of every site I visit — complete with a time-stamp of when I visited. And, perhaps the most significant feature of all — if it truly exists — is speculated by Gary Price: that Google is caching a version of the page you visited, so that when you search across your history, you can find the site as it was when you visited. Yes, that is truly amazing, if it works, and is a feature that could make one overlook all of the creepiness of being shown the reality of everything Google knows about you when you use one service for searching, mapping, comparing products, sending email, and then, embed a tool of theirs in your web browser.
I would find it helpful to hear from some of the folks associated with AttentionTrust.org, as this type of data — and the belief that we, as users, “own” this data — is their focus. While I can see how to activate, pause, edit or delete the data stored in my “Web History,” I haven’t seen yet if I can “export” the information. If a user can export such data, it becomes more than a “feature,” it becomes the basis of an economy where I can exchange such data about myself for something of tangible value beyond the transaction I have engaged in with Google by exchanging my attention for the value I derive from the efficiency and productivity they provide me through such a service. If I can export that attention data, not only will Google be rewarded for knowing exactly what type of car I am shopping for at the moment, I will also be able to benefit from it in the marketplace.
Something about all of this makes me think of a song by Police.
Every move you make
Every breath you take
Every bond you break
Every step you take
Ill be watching you
“Outside of the world of users who gawk at every shiny new thing on the web, though, this is going to give people the heebie-jeebies in a way that we’re probably only used to getting from Microsoft. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that no other major web company could release this product today; The backlash from the user community of players like Microsoft, Yahoo, or AOL would simply be too strong. Google is still in a period where most users on the web feel they are a relatively benevolent company. And it helps that the new product is excellent, useful, and unique. But with the release of Web History, especially in the context of its recent acquisitions and announcements, Google may have crossed the line where regular users start to react with skepticism and caution instead of unabashed enthusiasm. This product is all about web history. We’ve already learned some lessons from the history of the web about what happens to companies once users start to question their trust in the intentions or implications of new products. It may serve Google well to revisit those lessons.”
Steve Bosch: “I turned off Google Search History a few days after turning it on…I had a keen sense that allowing Google to have an audit trail of my seeking and viewing behavior was a really bad idea — especially in a day of subpoena happy law enforcement — even though I’m the prototypical model citizen.”
MG Siegler: [MG wonders if we will soon think (fear?) Google is like Santa Claus?] “They’ll know when you are sleeping (no web activity). They’ll know when you’re awake (browser opens – RSS reader loads up, maybe the news, maybe the weather). They’ll know if you’re being bad (porn) or good (donating to charity). So be good. For Google’s sake.”