With much of our lives spent online using social networks and searching the Web, it is hardly surprising that online privacy has become a top concern. However, while many of us are more preoccupied with social media privacy, relatively few take the time to consider that Google may also be recording every search query you ever entered.
Officially, there are at least 2.5 billion Google accounts, and while most users might not ever use Google+, Gmail or any other Google product than the search engine itself, it is likely that Google is recording all of your activity in the search engine through its Web & App Activity platform. Google Web History replaced an earlier search history service in April, 2007, meaning that every search query you entered since then could have been recorded.
How Does Google Web History Work?
If you are logged into your Google account and the Web history feature is activated, every search query you enter into Google is recorded. Those using Google Toolbar or Google Chrome may also have each individual webpage visit recorded. However, the data is encrypted and is only accessible to the password holder. Additionally, Google will ask you to enter your password for a second time in order to view your Web history, even if you are already logged in. Anyone with a Google account, regardless of whether or not they use any other services aside from the search engine itself, can view their activities by visiting the Web & App Activity page.
Understanding the Drawbacks of Google Web History
Although only the account holder is able to see the data, the thought of having absolutely every search query you ever entered stored online is a disturbing prospect for many. After all, accounts get hacked all the time, and just as you wouldn’t want someone seeing the entire contents of your email account or your Facebook messages, an unwelcome snooper perusing the entirety of your search history right back to 2007 is likely an even more mortifying possibility. If online privacy is a major concern for you, then you’ll definitely want to disable the feature and make sure your history is deleted.
What Are the Benefits of Google Web History?
The key advantage of having Google Web History enabled is that it helps to personalize your search results, although the privacy implications generally outweigh the benefits. Google has provided personalized search since 2004, but many new features were added in early 2015 affording users more control over the information about their activities stored online. Among these features is the ability to download the entire Google search history, view recent searches online or even delete all of the data collected. For those who are concerned about online privacy, the new features make Google Web History a more viable option.
How to Use Google Web History
Using your Google account credentials, log into the Web & App Activity page. If the feature is activated, you will see a list of your most visited websites as well as the last month of search queries you have entered. If the options have been turned on, you’ll also see other Web- and app-related activities listed here. If, on the other hand, the feature has been completely turned off, you should see something like the following:
To activate Google Web History, simply click ‘Get started,’ and move the slider on the next page to the right. Check the box to include history from Google Chrome and other apps which use Google account credentials if you desire.
You can also download your entire search history all the way back from 2007. Make absolutely sure that you do not download your search history on a public computer. Back in the Web & App Activity page, click on the menu button in the upper-right corner of the page, followed by ‘Download searches’ and ‘Create archive’. An email will be sent to you shortly afterwards containing a link to the downloadable data in zip format. This ZIP file will be stored on Google Drive, but it will not be accessible to anyone else.
To delete your Web history, return to the menu, and click ‘Delete’. Choose the ‘Advanced’ option, select ‘All time’ and click ‘Remove’, and your entire Web history will be deleted.
You can disable Google Web History at any time by visiting the Activity controls page and moving the slider to the left. You can always turn it on again later, should you wish. Alternatively, if you want to keep the feature enabled, you can still browse privately at any time, without any data being recorded, by using the InPrivate browsing mode in Google Chrome or a similar feature found in most other browsers.
Thanks to the range of new features Google introduced in 2015, users now have a lot more control over the information they have stored online. Nonetheless, if you do decide to continue using Google Web History, be sure to change your password regularly and take every necessary step to keep your account as secure as possible.