Chained computer

Clear Your Google Web History

Russell W. Gilmore, CISSP, CISM, EnCENews

computer with padlockOn March 1, 2012, Google will implement a new privacy policy. This new policy will affect any data Google has collected on you prior to that date, along with data collected from then on. Under the new policy, your Google Web History can be combined with other data Google has gathered about you from other services like Gmail, Google+, and other services. What has changed is that your search history was kept separate but will now be combined with other data to make the information more complete. This change will only affect users with Google Accounts.

Clear Your Google Web History

If you’ve been to Google’s homepage lately – and the chances you have are astronomical – you may have noticed a little announcement mentioning something about changes in Google’s privacy policy. You then probably ignored it – but you shouldn’t.

On March 1st, 2012, Google will implement a new, unified privacy policy. The new policy is retroactive, meaning it will affect any data Google has collected on you prior to that date, as well as any data it gathers afterward. The official Google Blog has more details on what the new privacy policy means. But what does all of this legal jargon mean practically? Basically, under the new policy, your Google Web History (all of your searches and the sites you clicked through to) can be combined with other data Google has gathered about you from other services – Gmail, Google+, etc.

Previously Google kept your search history separate, which means that its profile of you was less complete. If you’d like to keep your personal data a good distance away from Google, you’ll need to delete your existing search history and prevent Google from using that history in the future.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has more details on why you might want to turn off Google’s Web History feature.

Privacy policies are ubiquitous, yet often highly irrelevant to the typical user; in this case, however, a little time spent changing your settings can provide invaluable peace of mind knowing that Google can’t exploit your personal tendencies for its own purposes. Convinced yet? Read on for our guide to locking down your web history.

This how-to was written by Scott Gilbertson, a writer and web developer living in Athens, Georgia.

Wiping your History

First sign into your Google account and head to the history page. Click the button labeled Remove all Web History. Then click Okay to confirm. Note that this also pauses your web history going forward, and Google won’t start listening to your history again unless you let it.


Caveats and Considerations

This will not stop Google from gathering data when you search. To do that you would need to block Google cookies completely. However, while it will still gather the data, Google will not use it to serve targeted ads or do anything other than use it for internal purposes. Also, with Web History disabled, your data is at least partially anonymized after 18 months (if you leave Web History on, Google will keep your search records indefinitely).

On the negative side, bear in mind that while this won’t prevent Google from making search suggestions, it will prevent you from getting personalized suggestions based on your previous searches.

In case you do want to take this a step further and block Google from gathering any sort of data from you, you’ll have to get a cookie/script blocking browser add-on, such as Ghostery. For more tips on keeping out of Google’s all-seeing eyes, check out our piece on hiding from Google.

Plan. Protect. Prosper.

Protus3 specializes in security system design, security consulting, corporate investigations and other investigative services. Partner with Protus3 and we will examine each situation to identify threats and develop solutions for your best outcome.

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