When sharing Google links, make sure you check the url for leaks first
Have you ever shared links to Google Search results before? If you have, you may have noticed that the url pointing to the search results page contains several other parameters besides the search string.
While the search string is a given, since it indicates the page you want to share, all remaining parameters are not. In fact, none of the parameters is required to open the page.
Usually, that is not a big problem even though it may leak some information about the system you are using or the search itself. For instance, it may indicate the browser that you are using, or whether Safe Search is on or off.
Take a look at the following search query that I copied after running two searches in succession on Google:
Notice anything in particular about it? Right, it does not only list the first search that you have conducted, but also the search before that.
My first search was for Star Wars, the second for Star Trek, and both search queries are in the url. This is a big issue as you may leak information to others that you may not want to reveal to them depending on the first search you have conducted.
Good news is that Google does not append the previous search string to all current searches. It happens however when you search first using the browser's address bar, e.g. the one in Chrome, and then run a second search using the search form that is displayed on the search results page.
I have tested the behavior in several browsers including Chrome and Microsoft Edge, and it is replicated across all of them.
The leak can have serious privacy implications depending on the first search you have conducted and the people you share the link with.
You have two options to avoid the scenario altogether.
- Always audit the url before you share it. You may remove everything in it after the "?" with the exception of the "q=searchstring" parameter that is required to load the correct results page on Google.
- Never start searches from the address bar but open Google directly instead to run searches only once the site has loaded.
Actually, there is a third option, and that is to use another search engine that does not leak these information. I do use Startpage but there are others like DuckDuckGo that you may want to give a try. (via Jeremy Rubin)Advertisement