Do you regularly stay logged into your Gmail account on your computer/tablet/phone? If so, Google has likely been tracking and storing every search you have ever made. Today, Venturebeat found an unofficial Google blog that outlined a new feature that Google stealthily released into their suite of apps. This new feature allows you to view your previous searches and even export them into a JSON file. (In case you ever need to compile your thousands of Google Search terms into a collage or something…)
All things considered, Google tracks an astounding amount of our online activity. Our emails are scanned, our search terms and actions stored, even the websites we visit are all captured and analyzed in the cloud. While it is a bit disconcerting that Google tracks so much of our web activity, Google doesn’t do it without a reason. The reason behinds Google’s supposed “big brother” mentality is actually to provide us with an optimal online experience.
The two main impacts are in advertisements and recommended search results. Google wants you to find what is most relevant to you and they track as many data points as possible to do so. It’s worth noting that while Google might track this data, it is not readily available to their employees or the public. As reported by CBS, a science professor named Arindam Banerjee stated the following:
while algorithms read messages, Google employees can’t. They aren’t allowed access.
“You really have to go very high up and there will be a few people who, if needed, will be able to access this,” he said.
While privacy advocates might struggle with such monitoring, if it provides the user a more optimal experience without exposing the information to anyone malicious, I’m not completely against it. Let’s just say there is a reason why Google has been the number one search provider for quite a few years.
If you can get past the creepiness and want to see what you’ve searched in the past, all you have to do is navigate over to Google’s Web and App History Page. From there, if you’re logged into your Google account, you will see your search terms outlined by date. (Pictured to the right and yes, I was searching for a review on CNet for Segways. Don’t judge, I was writing a review for the Airboard!)
You can scroll through pages of search terms and even the websites that you clicked on as a result of those searches. If you’re anything like me, you’re curious to reminisce your previous searches and go back a year or so. While you could click through hundreds of pages to go back that far, an export of your history will get you there faster.
To do so, perform the following:
- from that same Web and App History page, click on the Cog at the top right hand corner of the screen
- Click on the Download option from the drop-down
- Once downloaded, extract the files.
- Once extracted, open the folder with the strange name
- Mine was: Searches-20150422T035141Z
- Open the Searches folder
- Open the Searches folder again
- Your searches should now be broken out by smaller segments
- Right click on the desired file and click Open With
- Choose Notepad
This will now open the raw JSON file in Notepad. While it will be written in code, all you need to do is press CTRL “F” and type “query_text” into the search bar. You can then click the next button to view every search term you ever used during that time period while logged into Google.
While I thought I would find some interesting results in my history, I was disappointed by how boring my search history was. The weirdest search I could find was “Dreamcheeky”, which is a computer controlled Nerf missile launcher. Hopefully, your search results were better than mine. Let’s start a competition. Look up your search history for 2014 and post your most awkward search in the comments below. We will pick a winner and share it on our Facebook page.