Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” And to fund this mission, it creates advertising that is “interesting” to you. That way you will click on more ads and generate more income for Google.
Is that so wrong?
Well, like Facebook and nearly every other major site on the Internet—with the exception of Wikipedia—Google is a business. And it’s an incredible business. The Google search engine is perhaps the most important knowledge tool ever created. AdWords, Google’s contextual advertising service, revolutionized the Internet, created new markets and laid the groundwork for web 2.0.
And as the tech behemoth from Mountain View, California grows and grows, it continues to accumulate a vast array of data about its users’ web activity. Google knows more about most of us than we’d like to admit. Basically it knows what you searched last summer… and last night… and few minutes ago.
Millions of people allow Google to monitor their web activity in exchange for the free use of its incredible resources—from Maps to Voice to Earth. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that by getting into the minds of Internet users, Google generates billions in revenue. Recently, however, we’ve been reminded in several ways that Google is definitely a business—a business with the power and scope to do nearly anything it likes.
First, Google Buzz opted Google users into a social network that very few people actually wanted to be a part of. Then, came reports that Google Street View teams we’re sucking up Wi-Fi data as they roved the world taking pictures of almost everything. And now, Google is engaged in negotiations that could alter the future of the wireless web.
The real damage of these questionable activities is hard to gauge. F-Secure Security Advisor Sean Sullivan points out that Google itself discloses very little personal information about users. It just makes your data a lot easier to find.
Still you have to decide: do you trust Google? Or rather, do you want Google—or any business—to use intimate details about your online behavior to market to you more effectively? And would you be okay with your online activity somehow becoming public in the future?
If you’ve decided you’ve want a little less Google in your life, here’s how to do it.
1. Sign out
You’re probably signed into Google now. You may not remember when you did it or why, but when you’re signed in, every action you take is associated with your Google account. You don’t have to be signed in to use Google Search, News or Maps.
But when you sign up for a Google account for a service like Gmail or blogger, you’re in. Your search history is now being tracked and being used to market to you more effectively.
Is there any harm to that? That’s for you to decide. Google’s mantra is “Do No Evil”, but you’re relying on its definition of “evil”. So it’s your choice. If you can live without Gmail, Google Reader, Google Alerts, etc., go ahead and sign out. It’s that easy. You can also avoid Google completely and use Bing, but you may already be signed in there, too. And of course, you’re then deciding to trust Microsoft more than Google.
2. Opt out of Google Ad preferences
We’ll assume that if you’re still reading you’ve decided that you’re not giving up your Gmail and you don’t mind been logged into your Google account as you click around. You still can keep Google from using your history to induce you to buy more things.
Just go to www.google.com/ads/preferences now. Then press the “Opt Out” button. Depending on which browser you’re using, you may have to download a “plug-in”.
Of course, now the ads you see may be less “interesting”, but that may be a good thing.
3. Clear your search history
Could your search history ever be used to harm you? It probably won’t ever be used against you in a court of law. But it could be used by a nosy house-guest who wants to prove that you’re a chronic self-Googler (self-Googler – n. a person who Google’s his or her own name). Or maybe your significant other could “accidentally” find out what you were really researching when you couldn’t sleep?
If that’s the case, you have much bigger privacy problems than Google.
There are definite advantages to retaining your Google history. You could replicate research you’ve already done, or find a site that seems to have slipped into oblivion. Before you decide one way or another, it’s a good idea to look at your History.
Go to https://www.google.com/history/ now. You may be amazed at how often you’ve used Google’s Search, Image Search, Blog Search, etc.
If you’re a little dazed and can’t decide whether this is a good thing or not, you can “Pause” your Web History now and come back when you’re not seeing stars. If you’re certain that there’s no good use to all this information existing on any database anywhere, you can take action now. Click on “Remove”. Then select “Clear entire Web History »”.
If you’re sure, your history will be gone. In addition, your all tracking will be paused. Now you if you’re really serious, you can go ahead and erase your browser’s history.
4. Un-Google yourself
You probably know that almost every country in the industrialized world—except Finland—permits employers to Google search applicants as a part of the hiring process. This makes almost every mention of you on the Internet a little part of your résumé.
When Google began organizing the web, you were a more than a decade younger. Your youthful indiscretions may have faded into your memory but, Google doesn’t forget.
Wired has put together a very useful guide on “How to Un-Google” yourself because Google wont’ do it for you.
Having control of the search results for your name is not only crucial when you’re looking for a new job. Think about the Green Revolution in Iran when it was reported that the government was using the web to track the activity of dissidents and their families abroad. In this rare instance, Google search results could have been a matter of life and death.
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