Google recently gave its users the chance to download their entire search history for any searches conducted using their Google account. It’s a mind-boggling thought, and a bit scary, but the tech giant has kept records of what each and every one of us has been up to online. And looking back on mine, I wish the context of many of my searches hadn’t long escaped me.
You can get to it by going onto your Web and Apps Activity page while signed into your Google account, clicking the little cog in the top right and then selecting ‘download’. You’ll get a disclaimer that looks like this.
Google will email you when it’s ready, and will place it in your Google Drive. Then you can download it a couple of months at a time.
When you download your search history, you get it as a .json file which you can then extract. You can open it in Notepad and you’ll get a bunch of characters indicative of the .json scripting language, but it’s pretty easy to read.
Every search query you ever had while using your Google account is there. It’s all dated, right down to the second. The time is given in a Unix timestamp, which counts in milliseconds, so you’ll need a translator if you want to reassure your employer that you weren’t searching for topless pictures of Ryan Gosling while at work.
So I’ve had my Google account only for about two years now. One of my first ever searches using it was how to use google+. I still don’t know the answer to that one.
I’ve also got a LOT of animal-based queries, usually in quick succession of each other. Exactly a year ago today, I started an animal binge at 12:25pm when I assume I was on my lunch break.
Funny sloth gif
Kitten falling over
Cat punching person
Why cats are better than boyfriends
Interestingly, despite that last search, it looks like that very evening I was typing my ex’s name into Google. Pretty much immediately afterwards, I was back to looking a pictures of cute animals again – I’m assuming to cheer myself up. Size of the sun makes an appearance on the same night, oddly enough.
It’s weird reading back on search history. Mine seems to play like a sort of disjointed soap opera, where my emotional state or intention is pretty clear at the time just from the syntax of query after query. There’s a lot of searches which were clearly done on the spur of a moment during a client call (like faceted navigation, explain faceted navigation, ajax containers, learn ajax fast) and the longer queries are pretty conversational – such as what is that thing in html where you mark somewhere in the code with a hash.
There’s also pepperings of rude words here and there, which obviously I don’t remember searching and can’t think of any possible reason to do so. Scrotum crops up once in the first couple of months, while penis pig returns a couple of hours after its original debut at 2:35pm on a Wednesday in February to make a comeback as the slightly more confusing variation penis pig born.
It’s quite interesting to see how searches progress according to the information previous queries gave me. For example, a couple of months ago I apparently started a late night search session with bad cough. This evolved into:
Bad cough hurts
Bad cough for days
Bad cough if smoker
Do i have cancer
How to know if have cancer
Doctors in Leeds
It’s fascinating to see an actual visualisation of the cognitive process that goes behind our search habits. As you continue to search, your queries continue to evolve.
(It turned out I had a chest infection, by the way).
How Do I Delete My Search History?
So when you clear your browsing history normally, it still exists on Google’s servers. It only ever isn’t recorded if you go in incognito mode.
Looking at my search history spooked me a bit. The fact that that kind of information is available to Google is a bit disturbing, almost Orwellian – there’s so much about my personality that can be garnered from the data behind my searches. It tells so many different facets of my personality, my interests, my aspirations and my psychological stability. Google knows EVERYTHING about you. This kind of data is marketing gold.
But if you want to wipe the history from the server, that’s now doable.
Bakc on the Web and App Activity page, click the cog in the top right corner again. Click ‘Remove Items’ and then choose ‘from the beginning of time’, just like when you clear your browsing history normally.
I removed mine to see what kind of immediate effect it would have on my search preferences. Haven’t seen much difference so far, to be honest. I wonder exactly how deleted our deleted search history is.