Google Inc. is experimenting with a new feature that enables
the users of its on-line search engine to see all of their
past search requests and results, creating a computer
peephole that could prove as embarrassing as it is helpful.
"My Search History" service, unveiled Wednesday
afternoon at http://labs.google.com, requires users to
create a personal login with a password. Users of Google's
e-mail, discussion groups and answer services can simply
use their existing log-ins.
The service allows
users to decide if they want Google to automatically recognize
them without having to log in each time they use the same
computer. Those who prefer to log in on each visit can
use a link that will appear in the right-hand corner of
Google's home page.
Whenever a user is
logged in, Google will provide a detailed look at all
their past search activity. The service also includes
a "pause" feature that prevents it from being
displayed in the index.
Users will be able
to pinpoint a search conducted on a particular day, using
a calendar that's displayed on the history page. The service
sometimes will point out a past search result related
to a new search request.
Google is hoping
the service becomes so valuable that people will use its
search engine even more frequently than they already do,
giving the company more opportunities to display text-based
ads that boost its profits.
"We think there
is some value in providing people with visibility into
their past activity on Google," said Marissa Mayer,
the company's director of consumer Web products.
But privacy rights
expert Pam Dixon is worried the service will make it easier
for mischief makers, snoops and perhaps even the government
to get their hands on a user's entire search history.
a bad idea," said Ms. Dixon, executive director of
the World Privacy Forum. "If you need to keep track
of your past searches, I recommend using a notebook. It
would be a lot more private and a lot less risky."
Google believes the service has adequately addressed
privacy concerns, although Ms. Mayer conceded people who
share a computer might not want to use the service. "This
isn't for someone who is particularly sloppy about signing
in and signing off," she said. "You have to
have very good computer hygiene to use this."
Yahoo Inc., Ask
Jeeves Inc. and A9.com, a search engine owned by Amazon.com
Inc., offer a feature that provides users with a limited
look at past search activity. Google's software for searching
computer hard drives, introduced last fall, also provides
a snapshot of past Web searches.
But Google promises
its latest feature will dig deeper than its rivals or
even its own desktop search product.
The on-line service
is designed to store years of each individual's search
activity, although users can remove selected links from
their personal archive at any time.
Because the history
feature requires an individual login, it could help Google
better understand each user so it can customize its results
to reflect a person's specific interests, said industry
analyst Charlene Li of Forrester Research.
But Li doubts Google's
latest feature will have mass appeal. "I don't think
this is going to be very important to the average person,"
Li said. "Most people are kind of paranoid, so they
are going to be wondering, 'Why should I give all my information
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