Searching the Internet seems such an innocuous act. Type in your search terms, see the results, click to a few pages, and you're done. What in that process could possibly invade your privacy or endanger your security?
In the wrong hands, plenty. Consider every step of what you do during that process. First, you type in a search term(s) and send it to a search site. Some sites have ways of keeping track of your terms by keeping them in a database and matching them to cookies or logged-in users, so now, the site knows one of your interests.
Next, you view the results and click those that interest you. The site can track this as well, and now it has an even better sense of who you are and what your interests are.
One search term by itself might not mean much. But how about 10? 20? 500? By the time you enter 500 searches and click thousands of results, the site could very easily put together a pretty comprehensive profile about you. Do you frequently search for information about high blood pressure? Do you click sites that criticize the president? What kind of entertainment do you search for? In a very short time, your searches can build up a fairly definitive profile about you.
The problem has been magnified because search sites like Google and Yahoo! are no longer just search sites. They've become entire universes in which you live when you go onto the Internet. Google, for example, has an email service, a site for searching for bargains online, a mapping service, downloadable software to search your computer, an image search service, a blogging site and a way to search blogs, a toolbar that can record all the sites you visit on the Internet...the list could go on for quite some time. And that's just a start. Google and its competitors, such as Yahoo!, constantly roll out new services all the time. The more of these services you use, the more information can be gathered about you.
All this is not to say that the sites use this information for nefarious purposes, or even that they necessarily gather this information. For example, Google doesn't keep track of all your searches, unless you specifically tell it to do that. So, why do it? Because it lets you revisit that list and makes it easy to keep going back to searches you've already performed, or even search within those searches.
To date, search sites don't necessarily track everything they could about you. And they don't create personal profiles about you to sell to the highest bidder.
The point, though, is that the sites could gather this information if they wanted to. So, before you do another Internet search, at least be aware of what it might say about you.
To help you better understand what you reveal about yourself when you search the Internet, the following two illustrations explain how Google works and what Google could theoretically find out about you based on the services you use. Again, Google does not track your activities to identify you personallybut it's good for you to know what the search site could uncover about you, if it wished.