There are probably some Internet searches you’ve made that you would rather no one knows about. Perhaps it’s that you’re secretly a fan of Kim Kardashian and regularly check for the latest gossip about her. Maybe it’s that you’ve researched and purchased more than your share of beauty products to make yourself look younger. Whatever they case, there are just some things you do online that you would rather keep to yourself.
Unfortunately, every time you use your browser to perform a search that information gets saved on a computer somewhere and is often tracked across the Internet. This means that someone with the right resources at their disposal could discover what topics you’ve searched for online and the sites you’ve visited.
Google Search History
You might not know it, but every time you use Google to perform an online search it stores your search query and that it becomes part of your personal web history. Although an individual person would have to know the password information for your Google account to access it, google maintains a history of your queries and must allow access to it if a court order is obtained. For anyone that figures out your password (which easier than you might think), they could simply visit http://google.com/history and to see all of your personal web history in all its glory. It’s even neatly categorized.
To keep your search history off of Google’s computers, try using SearchLock. If you’d like to delete any history they already have, click on the gear icon up at the top right-hand corner of the Google history page and choose “Settings.” Google will then allow you to delete all of your histories or, if you prefer, just the parts of it that you would rather keep secret. If you prefer to continue using Google and not a safer alternative like SearchLock, you can ostensibly turn your search history off on this same page.
Who Else is Watching?
It’s not just Google that is keeping a log of your search queries. Wifi hotspots, schools, and workplaces frequently track user search histories as well. Many of the firewalls these organizations use to protect their networks have specific features for logging of user search terms.
In 2013, there was a case in New York where family members who collectively used a work computer to search for pressure cookers, backpacks and news on the Boston bombings were visited by the police after the employer had tracked the search terms and tipped-off authorities. Needless to say, workplaces and schools have reasons for tracking your search history, and the people who administrate the networks likely have the ability to see your searches.
As you can see, it is definitely possible for someone to access and view your search and browsing history. You don’t necessarily have to make it easy for them, though. Taking steps such as using a VPN, adjusting your google privacy settings and frequently deleting cookies can help. You can also use Searchlock which works to automatically detect when you are making a potentially unsafe or non-private search and quickly redirects your query to a search engine that will respect your privacy.