I know what you Googled this summer, last summer, and the summer before (but not much before then)

Tags: , , , , — Jeff @ 17:09

Google collects a lot of information about its users. Or, more accurately, users give an awful lot of information to Google. (If you hadn’t guessed, I have little sympathy for people who complain about Google invading their privacy: if you don’t like the ways Google can use the information you give it, don’t use Google.) It’s therefore not surprising Google comes in for a good share of complaints about its “invasions of privacy” or some similar alarmism. Recently I stumbled across mention of one service Google now provides to give users insight into what information Google tracks about them: Google Dashboard, a one-stop shop directing you to modifiable views of much of the information Google has recorded about your interactions with it. It currently covers these Google services:

  • General account details (password, email address, &c.)
  • Alerts
  • Calendar
  • Contacts
  • Docs (& Spreadsheets)
  • Gmail
  • iGoogle
  • Orkut
  • Product Search
  • Profile (the link you see at the top of results if you search for a person who’s created one and made it publicly available)
  • Reader
  • Talk
  • Web History
  • YouTube

These services “are not yet available in this dashboard”:

  • Google App Engine
  • Google Groups
  • Google Book Search
  • Google Subscribed Links
  • Google WiFi

Skimming through the data yields this information about me, at a general level:

  • Searching (since May 12, 2007):
    • Total searches: 16026 (speculation on where that puts me overall by searches/day? I’m guessing top 5%, probably an even smaller percentage)
    • Total sponsored results viewed: 23
    • Total sponsored results viewed from searches with no intention of buying anything (i.e. I searched to learn information not meant for my potential use in making a purchase): 17
    • Total sponsored results which resulted in purchases: definitely 1, maybe 2 depending how broadly you define “purchase”, possibly 3 if you count one as minimally contributing to an eventual purchase that was ultimately made based on recommendations from friends
    • Total sponsored results clicked resulting in purchases not previously planned: 0
    • I’d always thought advertising basically doesn’t work on me; this seems like solid numerical evidence of that
  • I basically haven’t touched my calendar in over two years (not surprising, I’ve never had success keeping and regularly using a calendar)
  • I’ve created two docs/spreadsheets (one to track acid3 progress, one to track shared apartment/utility/etc. expenses with Jesse)
  • I have 12450 conversations in Gmail (most of it just archival storage of my college dorm’s mailing list, some other mail I’ve mostly ignored)
  • I have a tab and a theme in iGoogle, which I basically never use (prefer Ctrl+K in Firefox, or the non-customized home page)
  • I have one album in Orkut with nothing in it (probably auto-generated in the days when I was thinking of investigating Orkut’s JavaScript sandboxing implementation like I did Facebook’s; the account’s otherwise dormant)
  • I have four items in a Google shopping list, all dating back almost five years ago, all of which I still don’t have (“need” is far too strong a word for any of them)
  • I have 61 Reader subscriptions
  • No contacts in Talk, not even sure I’ve used it since it first came out
  • My YouTube account information until just now claimed I still live in Cambridge, MA

Of course, the search part is the most interesting bit, but there’s still a little gravy for me in the data on the other services. Does Dashboard reveal anything interesting to you about your interactions with Google?

Edit: Something else worth noting, after further exploration: their current UI for examining manual route changes in maps is clearly more prototyped than polished. It appears that every route change shows up as its own “search” in the map history UI, which results in dozens of “searches” showing up for viewing a single set of directions and modifying them to reflect some other choice of roads. (Except when I merely want to place a location on a map, I change the automatically-determined route nearly every time because I can’t bike on freeways like US-101, and nearly every generated route traveling up or down the peninsula uses it.)


  1. 25 234 searches, I win! 😛

    Did you count your “Sponsored Links” clicks manually? I can’t find any listings for it here. I think I have ~20 clicks and no buys as it’s too U.S.A. centric.

    7 calendars (1 shared), 11 documents, 5580 inbox conversations, 1800 chat conversations…
    248 saved drafts! Seems like my memory is bad or something.

    Subscriptions 231 total
    Starred 659 items
    Shared 143 items
    Following 1 person

    186 subscriptions, 491 favorites on YouTube.

    22 additional products are not yet available in this dashboard
    Google Analytics
    Google App Engine
    Audio Ads
    Google Bookmarks
    Browser Sync
    Google Base
    Google Image Labeler
    Google Groups
    Google Sites
    Local Business Center
    Mobile Content Console
    Google News
    Google Notebook
    Google Page Creator
    Checkout Sandbox
    Google Subscribed Links
    Google Squared
    Google in Your Language
    3D Warehouse
    Website Optimizer

    [I counted the sponsored links manually; the only number I could find was the overall number.]

    Comment by ŊªÞ — 07.11.09 @ 20:05

  2. Where did you find the information about how many searches you did? My dashboard lacks that information. (I can think of a few reasons why it might, but I want to make sure rather than guessing.)

    [I clicked on “Web” under the “Web History” heading and counted, of course. 😉 Okay, not really, if you look on the right side of the page reached by following those directions, underneath the calendar you’ll see text like “Total Google searches: 16029” that answers the question.]

    Comment by Anonymous — 07.11.09 @ 20:17

  3. I don’t have a “Web History” heading on my dashboard, either; have I somehow escaped tracking, or are they still tallying all my queries? 😛

    What’s most interesting to me is how many services I have listed where I don’t remember creating accounts or logging in/using and which show essentially no activity: Chat, Picasa, Talk, Contacts, and Google Subscribed Links (this last one in my “10 other products”). I also find it interesting that it’s “IGoogle” in the heading but “iGoogle” in the right-hand links.

    I’d be curious to see how many times I’ve used Google Translate, though; there seems to be no tracking of that (or I’ve again escaped tracking).

    [Hm, maybe Web History was something I explicitly enabled at some point. Curious…

    I noticed the iGoogle thing as well when copying text from the dashboard to compile the list of all views; I’m assuming it’s just a gaffe on Google’s part.]

    Comment by Smokey Ardisson — 07.11.09 @ 22:58

  4. You say “if you don’t like the ways Google can use the information you give it, don’t use Google.”. That’s unfortunatly not that easy. When you send emails to people using gmail, Google can collect informations about you. When you work for a firm that use Google Apps, it’s hard to refuse to use this tools. When you surf a website using Analytics ou Google Ads, Google may collect informations about you. The problem is, it’s becoming harder and harder to not use Google.

    [C’mon, that’s true any time you send an email to someone whose email is hosted on a server controlled by some other entity — Google, Microsoft, MIT in my case, etc. If you care about business use you could have a strictly business-use account, with a specific business-use cookie, to avoid entanglement with your personal life, at which point you expose no more than you do if you use any other business tool. Regarding ads, you can disable third-party cookies if you care that much. These problems are all solvable without that much effort. And in any case, do you really think Google’s going to use this information against you? They want you to give them money (perhaps indirectly), and actual bad behavior (as opposed to mere packrat-ness) would have a substantial effect on their business aims. I expect Google to not be that incredibly stupid.]

    Comment by Clochix — 08.11.09 @ 02:27

  5. Ah, yes. You do have to explicitly enable Web History, which tracks your searches so it can tailor your search results. I never turned that on.

    Comment by Anonymous — 08.11.09 @ 04:51

  6. I’ve done 38859 searches since April 2005! Is quite interesting to see all of the information in one place! Look forward to seeing the other services when they get added too

    Comment by Adam Dempsey — 08.11.09 @ 07:27

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