10 Things You Should Never Google
If youِ useِ Google, Bing, Yahoo, orِ anyِ other search engine thatِ records your IP address andِ search terms, thereِ areِ some thingsِ — manyِ things, itِ turns outِ — thatِ you reallyِ shouldn’t search.
Google, forِ instance, canِ combine yourِ search history withِ moreِ data aboutِ your identity, andِ associate themِ with a full profile thatِ bothِ the search engine andِ advertisers canِ use toِ getِ anِ idea ofِ who youِ are, whatِ you’re interested in, andِ what you’re mostِ likelyِ to buy.
Google records whatِ you search andِ uses thatِ information toِ figure outِ howِ to target ads specifically toِ you.
1. Don’t search for things that clue Google in to your location
As Jay Stanley reported forِ the ACLU, oneِ ofِ the earliest instances inِ which theِ powerful privacy implications ofِ havingِ your search history recorded occurred inِ 2006, whenِ AOL released a large set ofِ searches thatِ hadِ beenِ conducted onِ itsِ sites.
The result wasِ “an electrifying sense ofِ justِ howِ intimate andِ revealing theِ information oneِ ‘shares’ withِ a search engine canِ be.” About a year ago, New York Times columnist David Leonhard told NPR aboutِ how search terms differ geographically, withِ major differences between counties whereِ life isِ easiest and counties whereِ life isِ hardest.
A high prevalence ofِ searches onِ health problems likeِ blood sugar andِ diabetes, searches onِ “what mightِ beِ called theِ dark side ofِ religion,” searches aboutِ selling Avon orِ gettingِ Social Security checks, andِ searches aboutِ “specific kinds ofِ guns” occur inِ areas whereِ people areِ more likelyِ to struggle withِ money orِ suffer health problems.
2. Don’t search for information on medical issues or drugs
Neal Ungerleider recentlyِ reported thatِ researchers haveِ foundِ looking upِ medical andِ drug information online isِ a major privacy risk.
Tim Libert, a doctoral student atِ the University ofِ Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School forِ Communication, foundِ that moreِ than 90% ofِ the 80,000 health-related pages heِ looked atِ exposed user information toِ thirdِ parties.
3. Don’t give your search engine hints about your insecurities
Advertising isِ notoriously formulated toِ create andِ capitalize upon viewers’ insecurities.
Giving yourِ search engine — andِ allِ of theِ advertisers thatِ leverage theِ information itِ collects onِ you — easy access toِ theِ insecurities youِ alreadyِ have justِ doesِ the dirty work forِ them.
Amanda Hess recentlyِ reported forِ Slate thatِ a category ofِ searches she’s dubbed “Google, amِ I normal?” isِ a “scintillating resource forِ advertisers.” Hess explains, “I’ve beenِ tipping Google offِ to allِ the real ailments andِ imagined insecurities thatِ I alreadyِ have, atِ a pace ofِ aboutِ once anِ hour, everyِ hour ofِ the day: celebrity diet, pants areِ uncomfortable, migraine difficulty speaking, before andِ afterِ plastic surgery, and worst cramps everِ why.” Each ofِ those givesِ anِ easy inِ to advertisers, whoِ don’t evenِ have toِ show youِ anِ ad firstِ to getِ you toِ thinkِ aboutِ your insecurities, andِ how theirِ products mightِ help.
4. Don’t search for anything suspicious (especially at work)
A couple ofِ years ago, a story onِ howِ a series ofِ Google searches led toِ a visit byِ local authorities madeِ its rounds online.
As Jared Newman reported forِ Time, searches byِ different members ofِ a New York family forِ terms including “backpack” andِ “pressure cooker bomb” triggered a visit byِ local authorities when the suspicious Google searches wereِ reported byِ anِ employer.
Don’t search forِ suspicious terms, orِ anythingِ that couldِ beِ construed asِ crime-related, whenِ someoneِ isِ watching yourِ browsing history.
5. Don’t Google anything that enables Google to define your identity
If you’re reallyِ serious aboutِ finding a wayِ aroundِ Google’s propensity forِ constructing a profile toِ define whoِ you areِ andِ how muchِ you’re worth toِ specific advertisers, thenِ there’s notِ muchِ recourse butِ to avoid searching anything thatِ couldِ give Google orِ advertisers a clue aboutِ your identity.
“Computers canِ link ourِ digital profiles withِ ourِ real identities soِ precisely thatِ itِ will soonِ beِ hard toِ claim thatِ the profiles areِ anonymous inِ anyِ meaningful sense,” Rosen writes.
Paul Ohm, a law professor atِ the University ofِ Colorado atِ Boulder, told theِ Times thatِ companies can combine hundreds orِ thousands ofِ facts aboutِ you into whatِ he terms “a database ofِ ruin.” With discrete andِ unconnected facts aboutِ you, anِ algorithm couldِ sort throughِ profiles ofِ hundreds ofِ thousands ofِ users likeِ you andِ accurately predict somethingِ unrelated aboutِ you orِ your activity.