Try this simple experiment: Fire up your browser and search on Google for something -say, shoes. Google presents relevant information for you in two places: Sponsored links, on the right, and the main frame where top web matches are presented. Personally, I rarely click on the sponsored links. If I really need to, I usually just type it in.
What happens when you click on a sponsored link? Well, it is reasonable to expect that the search will go through their servers, where they will store info about your search, do some accounting on it – since this is how they make money – and then send you to the landing page of the company which paid to buy that spot on adwords.
Makes sense. In fact, if you hover over the sponsored link, (image below), you will see what google does – it take you to google.com, and subsequently, you will be sent to the webpage of the company that purchased the adword. You can see this from the status bar (bottom bar of browser, which shows that it will take you to Google)
Ok, how if you click on the ‘shoes.com’ displayed in the main frame (on the left/below the sponsored links)? The first one says that it goes to shoes.com. In fact, you can hover your mouse over it, and it tells you that it goes to shoes.com, as shown in the image below:
Notice the status bar again – it clearly says where it will take you – to http://www.shoes.com.
Notice the status bar – For shoes.com, it changes the URL after you click on the link.
Why on earth would Google do that? To me, it is unethical to be hiding this fact.
What this means to you and me is: Unless you are much smarter than me (ok, not unlikely), your entire search history – sponsored link or not – has been captured by Google and shared with who the heck knows. Worse, if you were signed into any Google web property – gmail for instance – they know exactly what you have been doing on the web.
I would’ve had no issue with this if they had come clean. The fact that they are trying to hide it from you is something that riles me.
Oh, and firefox users: they care only about you. This does not happen on IE or Safari. What on earth are they up to? (Do not know about Opera or other lesser used browsers: please let me know)
What can you do about this? From my perspective, you should get to choose what information you reveal about yourself, and this unethical behavior (Do I hear someone say ‘Don’t be Evil?’) should be stopped. So I have a solution for you: install gono.
What is gono?
Here’s what the link looks like once gono is installed:
Getting and installing gono
Read the instructions here and install gono.
Of course, Google can change how the scripts works and break gono. And of course,I can change gono to deal with it again.
Thanks much to Shaddi Hasan (http://sha.ddih.org/) for helping out with testing it on different platforms. It is verfied to work on Win 7, Ubuntu 9.10 and MacOS X with Firefox 3.5.6. ( I love this internet thing. How the heck would I ever have to able to get this help from someone I have never spoken to? Thanks Shaddi!)
All said and done, Google is still a great company, IMO. If they get unhappy with what I’m doing, they can really screw me over. Just demonstrates the extent to which I am dependent on them.
These transgressions are strange. (With great power comes great responsibility, and similar banal thoughts come to my mind)