December 04, 2009

Google Now Personalizing Signed-Out Search -- and a Quick Note on the CNBC Google Report

Greetings. For quite a while, Google has offered a search personalization system tied to the history of your Google Searches when logged-in to Google.

Today Google announced the expansion of personalized search, and what could be termed a form of search history, for logged out users as well.

Rather than try explain the various ramifications of this here, I'll refer you to an excellent and detailed article over on Search Engine Land that really gets into the nitty-gritty, including privacy issues, data retention periods, etc.

I'll just offer a couple of quick points for now. These personalized Google services are all tied to cookies held by individual Web browsers. If you block future Google cookies and delete any current Google cookies, search history correlations will no longer take place. Or, you can simply (with Google cookies accepted) opt-out of this logged-out personalization service -- which will note your choice via an "opt-out"-indicating Google cookie.

So whether or not you wish to participate in personalized Google Search is up to you, whether you're logged-in to Google or logged-out.

Various people have asked me how I broadly handle cookies in my routine Web browsing. My current (suboptimal) "solution" is to use different browsers for various purposes.

Firefox has the most fine-grained site-based cookie controls, so I tend to default to using Firefox for many (but not all!) purposes. I block cookies from many sites, and accept cookies from other sites (typically ones where login is required). I pretty much make these determinations on what amounts to a "need to know" sort of basis -- or rather a "need to accept a cookie" basis.

I avoid using Internet Explorer for a variety of reasons, but sometimes do employ it for "alternate account" login situations. IE has fair per-site cookie controls, though not as cleanly implemented as Firefox in my opinion.

When dealing with particular Google services where I always want to be logged-in anyway, such as Gmail, Google Voice, or Google Wave, I use Google's Chrome browser. Chrome is rather blindingly fast when dealing with JavaScript-intensive Google services and is the obvious choice when using these products. However, at this time, Chrome's cookie-handling options are comparatively sparse -- no per-site cookie controls are available. So I typically don't use Chrome in situations where I don't want to accept cookies. Actually, Chrome is so powerful and user-friendly in most respects that the single factor preventing me from switching to Chrome as my primary browser is the lack of better cookie controls -- a situation that I hope will improve soon.

Finally, a quick segue into another Google-related topic. Last night (with various repeats scheduled going forward) CNBC ran what I would characterize as a rather overall "aggressive" hour report called Inside the Mind of Google. Piles of folks have been sending me notes today asking my opinion of a particular sound bite by Google CEO Eric Schmidt, where he said, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

That line seems to have been bouncing around the Net and some mainstream media all day.

So in answer to the many people asking me ... yes, I saw the program and heard the quote. Yes, I probably did a Spock-like single eyebrow raise at the time. And no, I don't think that Schmidt was actually suggesting that everything anyone would want to be private is somehow automatically illicit or something that you shouldn't do.

Given what I believe to be a reasonable understanding of the sensibilities involved, I think it's pretty safe to assume that the intent of the statement was actually limited to -- for example -- posting evidence of your own illegal activities. When a bunch of kids beat up another child then merrily post a video of the crime on YouTube along with graphic comments, complaining about getting caught as a result likely won't elicit much sympathy.

It's really pretty amazing the sorts of information regarding just plain illegal activities that some people will publicly post, then get all bent out of shape when public searches reveal their actions.

Schmidt's specific statement on that CNBC report may have been rather poorly worded, but trying to play "gotcha" on the basis of that single line, given the wealth of evidence that suggests this is not really representative of Schmidt's (or even more importantly, "Google Policy") attitudes in this regard, seems at the very least to be unfair.


Posted by Lauren at December 4, 2009 08:06 PM | Permalink
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