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Privacy tip: be wary of Google's "personal history" feature

[Imagine the type of personal information that a subpoena to Google 
could unearth in a criminal prosecution: every search query you've ever 
made on that computer with that browser. If you "log in" to other Google 
services, your queries can be tracked across computers. Can this 
information be obtained by opposing counsel in a divorce case? I don't 
know, but I can imagine some instances where it could be seen as 
relevant. I'd invite someone with more knowledge of family law to reply. 

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [IP] more on BAD IDEA OF THE WEEK -- Google Launches Personal 
History Feature
Date: Thu, 21 Apr 2005 11:53:02 -0500
To: ip <ip@v2.listbox.com>

------- Original message -------
From: Trei, Peter <ptrei@rsasecurity.com>
Sent: 21/4/'05,  11:31

"W.B. McNamara" <whitney@absono.us>

> Could you provide a little more detail on what elements you feel are a
> bad idea?  With Amazon/A9, AskJeeves, and Yahoo all offering a search
> history feature, I'd argue that Google has no choice but to offer
> something similar.
> With Google only storing history if you log in, as well as offering a
> "pause" functionality to allow users to keep certain searches out of
> their history, this strikes me as a pretty reasonable implementation
> (though I'll admit that I've only played with it a very little bit).

Google retains logs of *every* query. I refer you to the following
NYT story.


It's far from clear if 'pause' actually stops logging, or just
marks any queries made as 'not to be returned in History'.

Google also places tracking cookies on your machine, and
presumably uses them to identify the queries of a given

If you setup some google service which requires you to identify
yourself, that cookie can be used to link all of your queries
to your identity.

At that point, the privacy implications become immense. While
some will always respond 'If you have done nothing wrong, why
would you want to hide?', in the real world, there are many,
many values for 'something wrong'. Actions and interests
that you, today, may feel are ethical and legal, may by some
one else or at some future time be used adversely against you.

Its a matter of privacy.

Disclaimer: The above reflects my personal opinion only.

Peter Trei

Posted by Declan McCullagh on Apr 25, 2005 in category privacy

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