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Google's "Web History" lets you search your searches and history: there's a catch, of course, involving privacy...

 Being a user of Google products, I was naturally curious when I saw a link on one of the various Google product screens (Gmail, I think) saying that I could look at my "web history".  Indeed, Google has rolled out a new app, named, in the very simplistic Google style, "Web History".  You can see the login screen to the right along with the various statements about what it can do:

  • "View and manage your web activity" - you can search across the full text of pages you've visited. You can also remove pages from your web history.
  • "Get the search results most relevant to you" - using the data in your web history, Google can personalize the results to the most relevant sites.
  • "Follow interesting trends in your web activity" - what are the sites you visit the most and when do you visit them?

This last one, while a bit Big Brother-ish, is actually kind of intriguing to me.  The whole package is, really.  I mean, if you remember seeing a web page but you didn't bookmark it, wouldn't it be great to search back through all the pages you went to in order to find that page?

Of course, there naturally is  a catch. As shown in the image on the left, this really only gives you the full capability when you install and enable the Google Toolbar. Now, the toolbar itself sounds not too bad... you can search various sites, have better searches, easily blog or email web pages - or bookmark them (using Google Bookmarks, which would like to be my bookmark service, a role currently filled for me by In fact the latest toolbar for Firefox has a whole host of goodies.

On one level, the toolbar could be a great thing that allows you to maximize your usage of Google's applications.  Perhaps many of you are already running it. Part of me is curious to run it for the PageRank display alone.

But recall this... I'm a "security guy" with a relatively high degree of paranoia about privacy and disclosure of information, even in aggregate form.  I know that Google has a lengthy Toolbar privacy policy, but part of me does worry about the usage of my browsing data.  From their policy:

  • We process your requests in order to operate the Google Toolbar. For example, by knowing which web page you are viewing, the PageRank feature of Google Toolbar can show you Google's ranking of that web page. Likewise, by processing the text on a web page, SpellCheck can offer spelling suggestions and AutoLink can provide useful links to information.
  • In addition, we use log information about aggregate Toolbar usage to improve the quality of Toolbar and other Google services.

So by using the Toolbar with its Advanced Features (which are some of the more interesting) you are basically consenting to let Google monitor everything you view on the web.  Of course they "log information about aggregate Toolbar usage" because it is a phenomenal way for them to understand the browsing habits of web users.  I would, too, if I could convince enough people to install a toolbar like this into their browser window.  In fact, there are a lot of unethical companies out there who try to install these type of browser add-ons, but in the security industry we generally call those "spyware".  And I guess that's my dilemma - is the Google Toolbar "spyware" or is a tool to help us be more productive in our web searches?  Is the difference really only one of perspective?  In many ways, it comes down to:

Do you trust Google and their "Do No Evil" mantra?

Overall, I personally do generally trust Google... I know enough people there to know they are very serious about privacy and safeguarding information.  But do I trust them enough to install the Google Toolbar?   I don't know...

Do you trust Google?  Have you installed the Google Toolbar?  Have you used the Web History function yet?  What do you like best about it?

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