Google begins today, Thursday March 1, to create far more comprehensive profiles of its users by following their activities across the company’s Web sites. From videos watched on YouTube to the terms typed in a Google search, tracking such behaviors will enable the firm to sell ads better suited to its customers’ tastes.
Users won’t be able to opt out. If they don’t like the change, Google has said, they can avoid signing into their accounts or stop using Google products altogether.
But that’s easier said than done, experts say. For the 350 million people using Gmail around the world, moving to a new e-mail program is perhaps more inconvenient than changing a mailing address or a bank account.
The “high switching cost” — as business parlance calls it — didn’t happen by accident.
When Gmail launched eight years ago, it quickly supplanted AOL and Hotmail as a leading e-mail service. It was free, storage was unlimited and it was easy to search for past messages. Gmail became even more useful as the company integrated contact lists, word processing, live maps and then later integrated the services on smartphones.
The business plan was clear: Glean information from consumers, sell ads and keep everything free.
Wondering how to clear your search history before the changes go into effect?
The first and easiest way to use Google but keep the company from collecting information on you is to use the company’s services without signing in to your account. YouTube, Search and Maps don’t require users to be logged in to use the services, though even signed-out users will still see ads based on their search terms, etc.
If you, like many people, are constantly signed in to your Gmail account throughout the day, things get a little more complicated.
Users can turn off the setting that allows Google to record their search history. To get to this menu, go to www.google.com/history or head to the “Account Settings” menu from the top navigation bar you see when signed in to your Google account. Scroll down to the “Services” section. From here, you can pause, edit or remove all Web History. On some accounts, you can also go to the “Products” section of your account settings and click the “Edit” link next to “Your Products.”
Google will still keep some of your Web history information regardless of your settings, but the results won’t be used to customize your search results. According to Google, the company “also maintains a separate logs system for auditing purposes and to help us improve the quality of our services for users.” Google keeps the information to “audit our ads systems, understand which features are most popular to users, improve the quality of our search results, and help us combat vulnerabilities such as denial of service attacks.”
Note that if you want to delete your Google Web history from your computer, you should also clear it in your
browser and from any Google toolbars you may have.To do so, head to your browser’s search history settings. In Firefox and Internet Explorer, you can clear history from the “Tools” menu. In Chrome, click on the wrench icon, head to the “Under the Hood” tab and choose the “Clear Browsing Data” option.
To delete all or part of your Google account (your profile, say, or your Google+ account), you can use the same “Services” area of your “Account Settings” panel.
So, now you know, Google is watching and tracking you! What are your thoughts on this matter and what will you do about it? Do share with us.