Google is on a mission to revolutionize the internet. They also believe in collecting data – and lots of it. They provide so many high quality free services (Gmail, Buzz, iGoogle, Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools, to name a few), that some of us have completely sold out. Sure, we might be somewhat creeped out by the fact that Google’s virtually looking over our shoulder when we’re online. But with all the conveniences they offer, and the way the services are integrated, we can’t help ourselves – it’s worth it!

In the interest of “having a clue about what’s going on”, I’m posting to share some things I’ve learned recently about Google personalized search. Get ready to be creeped out – or sold out.

In about 2005, Google started experimenting with ways to use your Web History to influence your search results.

What’s that? You don’t know about Web History? You’ll be amazed. If you’re signed into Gmail (or any other Google account),  and you use Google as your search engine, check this : https://www.google.com/history/ (NOTE: This works if the Web History service is enabled in yourGoogle Account Settings. Mine was enabled, though I don’t recall doing it).

Big Bro Google is watching you.

Anyway, this evolved into Personalized Search.  Personalized Search uses Web History, geographic location and browser search preferences, among other things, to filter your search results.  If you didn’t know it was working, that just goes to show how well it was working, doesn’t it?

So, what if you want to see the exact same search results everybody else sees?  Well, you just make sure you’re not signed into any Google accounts.  Right?  RIGHT?!   Well, see, that’s what I just learned.  Apparently it’s not enough that you don’t have – or aren’t signed into – a Google account.  As of December 2009,  they’re doing Personalized Search  for everyone who uses Google, whether you’re signed in or not.  Wow.  This is very bad.  And very good.

As you can tell, I’m a bit conflicted about most everything Google.  But for the reader’s sake, I’ll keep the love-hate details to myself.

OK, but what if you really really want to see the  same search results everybody else sees? For instance, what if you did some SEO on your website, and you want to see what users see when they’re looking for you?  Or how you’re doing in a search using a specific keyword?  Well, here’s what I found out:

Google lets you  disable the cookie that’s used for Personalized Search.  While signed out of your Google account, click the Web History link at the top of any Google search engine results page.  You should see this option/link: Disable customizations based on search activity.  This will disable the feature until you go back and enable it, OR until you sign into a Google account.

Your browser may give you another way to accomplish the same thing:

  • Firefox lets you use  “Private Browsing”
  • Chrome lets you search “Incognito”
  • IE8 gives you “InPrivate” mode

And here’s how to remove Web History altogether:

  • Log into your Google account
  • Go to www.google.com
  • Under Search Settings (top right), select Google Account Settings
  • Next to My Products, click Edit
  • Click Remove Web History permanently.

On the web, as in other facets of life, there’s always been a trade-off between privacy and convenience.  No matter where you stand  on the issue,I hope this info is helpful.

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