If you are using Google Search, and chance is you are as it is the dominating search engine by a mile in most parts of the world, then you probably know -- or maybe not -- that your searches get recorded by the company.
Since Google is an advertising company more than anything else, at least when you look at where the revenue comes from, it is in the business of finding out more about you than your parents, better half or friends do.
The more it knows, the higher the rates of advertisement. It is that simple.
But how are those information linked to you? It is easiest for obvious reasons if you are signed in to a Google account while you use the search engine. Your searches get linked to you automatically while you use Google properties, and yes, that includes Google Chrome and its search options.
But even if you are not signed in to the account, you may be linked as Google, just like any other site on the Internet, gets information about you during connection.
This includes your IP address and the web browser and operating system that you are using, among other things. The company may also place cookies on your PC, so that you can be tracked even if your IP address changes.
Preventing Google from linking you to your searches
If you do not like the idea of being tracked on the Internet, you can do something about it. I'd like to stress that this is not a Google-only problem. Other search engines and websites may track you to. Basically, if you are using a free product, it is often you that is the product for that company. That does not mean that pay sites do not track you though, as they may very well do so as well.
Turn off Google Web History
If you are signed in to your Google account while you use Google Search, then you can control the Web History of that account.
While it can be used to restrict what is openly recorded and used by Google, it is unlikely that it will keep Google from recording your searches in the background.
What it can do however is visualizes what Google knows about you. The company does know more than what you search for though, but the Web History may help get the point across that Google is tracking you.
You can remove individual Web History items, or turn off the web history completely. Do the following for that:
- Open the Google Web History website.
- Click on the icon in the upper right corner of the page and select Settings from the menu.
- Alternatively, open this page directly.
- Click on Turn off to turn the web history off.
Web History is only recorded if you are signed in to your account. Google notes that turning the feature off may disable or limit search related features, such as Google Now or search predictions.
The next step would be to search without being signed in to your account. The easiest way to do so is to launch Google Search in private browsing mode. How you do that depends on the browser you are using. The most common shortcuts are Ctrl-Shift-P (Firefox, Internet Explorer) or Ctrl-Shift-N (Google Chrome, Opera).
The main purpose of private browsing is to block information from being recorded locally. A side effect is that it is handled like a new browser instance that runs independent from the one you have open. What this means is that you are not signed in to any of the accounts of the main browser window.
Alternatively, sign out of your Google account before you search. This is not really that practicable though, especially if you use Google products all day long as it would mean that you would have to sign out and on a lot throughout the day.
Alternative: Use a second web browser for searches. This also ensures that cookies cannot link the searches to your other activities, as both browsers use different cookie storage locations.
Use a web proxy
A web proxy is like a barrier between your computer and the Internet servers you connect to. So, instead of seeing your IP address, the servers see the IP of the proxy (unless scripts or plugins are used to overcome this).
This means that you can search Google or connect to any other site on the Internet without revealing your IP address.
The IP address in turn cannot only be linked to you in extreme cases, for instance with a court order, but it can also be used to pinpoint your location on the world.
Use a different search engine
You can also try out a different search engine for your searches. Startpage comes probably closest to what Google has to offer. It uses Google search results, and while not identical, it comes close most of the time.
Other potential alternatives are:
- DuckDuckGo (powered by Bing)
- Ixquick (run by the same company that runs Startpage, pulls data from Yahoo and other sources)
There are other ways to improve your privacy online. Check out the items below for further information:
- Block third-party cookies and third-party Flash cookies.
- Use a system cleaner to remove traces.
- Install privacy extensions for Google Chrome or privacy add-ons for Firefox.
Now Read: How to modify your browser's fingerprint