Google earlier this week made users' entire search history available for download. It's scary to see how much information is available in those long-forgotten search logs.
The new search export option, which is part of a wider set of Google "Takeout" policies that give users greater access to their data, will provide us an unprecedented ability to analyze our own search behaviors—and to get a better sense about the information we're giving Google every time we use the company's ubiquitous products.
I signed up for a Gmail account during my sophomore year of college in December 2007, and since then I have logged more than 71,000 Google search queries. That's about 26 searches a day, or more than one every hour in the seven years and six months since then, including the middle of the night.
My Google usage increased along with the might of the company itself, which has more than tripled both its daily search volume and its revenues since 2008 and has made the Internet seem unusable without its services. About 80 percent of my Googling took place in the last four years.
Each search query we make while signed in is recorded along with the time of the search in microseconds—one millionth of a second. After converting and adjusting for the appropriate time zone, anyone with the data can figure out quite a bit about the searcher, like what he or she tends to search at work or late at night.
Google knows a lot about our lives before even taking a look at the content of the searches. On an hourly basis, a person's search history gives a pretty clear picture of his or her daily routine over several years. In college, it was common for me to be on my computer until 3 or 4 in the morning, but today I do most of my searches in the middle of the day. There are even visible blips after lunch and dinner.
Looking at my own data, it's pretty clear that Google knows the exact address of everywhere I've ever lived (entered while getting driving directions), every time I moved ("new york apartments") or changed jobs, and the months in 2012 when I was looking for work (12 searches for "jobs and "jobs Ohio").
It knows when my dog is sick ("dog vomit"), and that I recently started looking up home prices (50 searches in 2015). It knows that I've looked up my last name 348 times, which puts my own name among the most frequent 0.1 percent of the 24,000 terms I've searched. Google knows that I've looked up "marijuana" 50 times, "Obama" 52 times and the word "Google" 896 times, even before I started working on this story.
Of course, there are plenty of weird and embarrassing search queries (I swear some of it was my roommate), but most are mundane, drowned out in the searches for other sites or driving directions. It turns out that many people using Google are just trying to get to Facebook.