Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Big brother Google is tracking you

Did you realize when you are logged in with a free Google account and are searching the web with Google, your every click is being tracked? I learned this tonight thanks to a post by Kern Kelly. Apparently this tracking started in April 2007, or that was the month I started using a Google account through which my web searches and clicks on Google would be tracked. This is indicated by the fact that my monthly search activity was not recorded prior to April:

My Google Search Activity Trends

I’ve been casually aware of of the fact that Google tracks browsing history, because I’ve noticed the “# visits” addition in Google search results for some time:

Google tracks site visits

It is rather amazing, and perhaps a bit disconcerting from a privacy standpoint, to click on the different graph numbers in your Google History and view top queries, top sites, and top hours. I can see which months I’ve burned the most midnight oil. It’s interesting too, and surprising, that Wednesdays are the days I’ve done more Google searches during the week. One thing is clear: I use Google A LOT.

To view your own Google history, visit

If you’re logged into a Google account, your surfing behavior is being tracked– unless you choose to PAUSE your web history.

Pausing Google Web History

It really is amazing to use the links in the left sidebar of your Web History to filter your searches by type: web, images, news, video, maps, etc. This would be a good thing to show students (and learners of any age, really) and discuss the idea of virtual accountability online. Note that you can filter your searches BOTH by type and date. Use the calendar on the right side of the Google History page to limit the displayed history results for a particular day or month.

Want to permit Google to track ALL the websites you visit? Download the Google Toolbar, enable PageRank and then enable Web History.

Wow. This brings to mind visions of 1984…

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8 responses to “Big brother Google is tracking you”

  1. Scott Meech Avatar

    I see educational opportunity. Schools could leverage this technology to help students improve their search skills. This is more data that could be used to assess our students performance. Perhaps we could ask students to use this data in a presentation to evaluate their evolution of research skills, etc.

    These brainstorms are coming at the speed of creativity for sure and not necessarily completely thought out. I just see potential as well.

  2. Sharon Peters Avatar

    The fact that Google is capable of tracking our use is not so surprising – I would have been quite a bit more surprised if they could not or did not. And they are up front with sharing this capability with us. It would have been quite a bit more disconcerting if they were surreptitious in their tracking of use – or worse still, selling the results to the government or some other buyer. Now THAT would be better termed “Big Brother”. Actually, perhaps we should be grateful for the service – we might be able to use this as an opportunity to teach appropriate use for these tools to our students and children. After all, this gives teachers and parents a tool for monitoring the use of google searches by users. If we ourselves use these tools ethically and with integrity, we have no reason for embarrassment later when our digital behaviour catches up with us. We should be pointing this out to our students as they navigate and live their lives online.

  3. Miguel Guhlin Avatar

    use the techniques here to stop Google from tracking:

    Take care,

  4. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    You’re right Sharon, and Google History can be a great tool and resource, not only to identify trends in Internet use but also to find websites that you looked up and found in the past, and can’t remember today! As Miguel has pointed out with a link, it is possible to turn off this tracking capacity. Personally, I am leaving it on. I was fascinated to learn about my own Google use trends, and see the value of this tool. So while this does make me think of “Big Brother” I do acknowledge, as you’ve pointed out, that Google is open about this and does directly empower individuals to turn this service on or off. Thanks for pointing this out.

  5. Nick Baker Avatar

    It is true that Google tracks your Google searches, but they also make it very easy to opt out of the program and clear your history if you choose. Now whether or not it’s really gone is another question, but it’s not as sinister as it looks at first glance.

  6. joanna Avatar

    It only tracks your history if you are signed in while you’re searching. Seems kind of like we’re spreading fear here and that’s not necessary at all. Better to be clear, precise, and concise. Tell the clearest version of the truth that you can.

  7. Jill Elfering Avatar

    When I signed in to see my history today, I would have had to start the PageRank and History tracking, so it hasn’t done it automatically since I created an account. If you use the Google Toolbar and enable PageRank there, then I would think it tracks all activity while logged in.

    I don’t know, I don’t mind it since I have control over when it happens. My memory is so bad it would be nice to have a reminder once in a while so I don’t have to keep re-searching what I already have in the past.