It's both an honorable attempt at complete transparency and a horrifying admission of how much dirt it's got on us — I'm talking about Google's feature that lets you see and download all your Google searches. As in, every single search term you entered into that innocuous-seeming search engine box. (Well, every term you searched while signed into your Google account, that is, which is pretty much always.) If you're curious to see all the random, embarrassing, and nonsensical things you've searched on Google, here's how you can download your search history.
Over the weekend, Google Operating System, an unaffiliated news blog for Google products, revealed the feature that lets you download and export your Google search history. It also offered instructions to do so: go to the Google Web & App Activity page, click the gear icon to get a drop-down menu, and then select download. Within seconds, your entire Google search history will be downloading to your computer.
OK, two things: first of all, that seems way too easy to access your entire Google search history. Luckily, Google requires you to reenter your password before accessing the Web & App Activity page, but still. After you've downloaded a copy to your computer, anyone who borrows it has the potential to see what you've searched. Second of all, this is a pretty big deal and warrants more than a nonchalant blog post, no?
To reiterate, Google can only save and archive the searches you made while signed into your account, but for anyone who has Gmail, that's pretty much 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Google also knows how sensitive some of this information can be (like that time you were researching for a project on famous serial killers and all of your search terms for a week painted a pretty suspicious picture), so it also offers you a two-step verification process that tightens security to your account with both your password and your phone. And if you're really worried about what's in those countless search terms, you can delete all of your data altogether.
This may seem like a generous move on Google's part to give its users back their data, but let's not forget why Google logs your info in the first place. It doesn't just sit there untouched, waiting for you to rescue it. Google pores over your searches, analyzes them, and customizes your search results based on what it determines is your personal relevance. For example, you'll get restaurant results based on your location and articles from your most-visited sites.
But the saved data is not just an invasion of your privacy; it can be used against you in a legal process. Agencies can subpoena, court order, or issue search warrants to Google for users' data, and since the company has it, it is obligated by law to hand it over. Hopefully, if you're an upstanding citizen who abides by the law, Google won't have anything on you that can be used in a court of law.
And if all of this makes you uncomfortable, there's a simple solution: turn off the save search history function in your account settings. Apparently, I had the foresight to do this a long time ago, because when I tried to download my search history for the sake of this article, I got a "No Data Found" message. Which is probably for the best, because just off the top of my head, a few recent searches I made include "how to get rid of armpit fat," "how to not be drunk anymore," and "Joe Biden swagger."
If you're like me, then here are 11 searches everyone can probably expect to see in their archive.
- "Pizza delivery under 5 minutes"
- "Can my cat kill me in my sleep?"
- "How to lose weight without exercising or dieting"
- "Corgi puppies GIF"
- "Can I die from eating week-old Chinese food?"
- "How to not look crazy or drunk in pictures"
- "Why do I have an IRA and what do I do with it?"
- "Channing Tatum being awesome"
- "How to be BFFs with Hillary Clinton"
- "Does John Boehner have any friends?"
- "Why is Chipotle so good?"
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