What’s Personalized Web Search ?
“Google introduced personalized search in 2004 and it was implemented in 2005 into Google search. Google has personalized search implemented for all users, not only those with a Google account. There is not much information on how exactly Google personalizes their searches; however, it is believed that they use user language, location, and web history.” Source: Wikipedia
Recently, Google said in a blog post that it’s “transforming Google into a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships.” So, if your Google+ friends like a certain restaurant, its more likely to come up higher on a search. And if you search for a person and that person has a Google profile, that’s what’s likely to pop up. Personalized search uses profiling and user tracking with artificial intelligence to custom-tailor your search results pages, advertising preferences, other other aspects of the internet and internet search. Many find it an invasion of privacy and sometimes even consider the techniques a rights violation. But, this post doesn’t go into those points of view, as we are trying to keep this short, while staying neutral to the mighty GOOG.
How to Turn it Off ( Sort of )
Unfortunately, the only way to completely turn off Google personalized search is to not use Google or Google products or visit the sites that use the Google advertising network. However, there are some changes you can make to prevent the impact it has on your online privacy and the search results you see. The first thing you can do is make sure if you use Chrome browser, to disable websites from accessing your device location and always clear your browser cache, history and cookies every day at the least. I don’t store cache or cookies beyond the session, so once my browser closes, everything gets deleted and the disk space is overwritten.
Virtual Private Networks
Google will do a reverse location search on your IP address and use your location, even if your browser settings have it disabled on sites. I’m referring to Google.com which accesses your IP regardless and will usually use the location based on your IP address. This is where Virtual Private Networks or VPNs come in handy. Using a VPN service that anonymizes your device’s IP address randomly and on the fly makes your identity different constantly. Here’s a link to a post that points out 10 reasons you might want to use a VPN.
Cache, Cookies, & Private or Incognito Browser Mode
Using Private or Incognito mode as much as possible can minimize the impact personalized search has on your internet activity also. Over time, everywhere you go is stored into a big folder on a Google server with your IP on it. Then, that data is analyzed, and using AI or artificial intelligence, shows you what it thinks you should see based on the websites you visit and your typical locations. There are programs that automatically delete tracking cookies and other search & history details that get stored into you profile and your devices. There’s several good applications that make this task a breeze and are available for most operating systems and browser platforms free of charge with limited functionality. CCleaner for Windows works with most major browsers including Opera, Firefox, and Chrome and offers a free version that does everything except clean your browser automatically. You’ll have to buy the full version if you want to clean your browser automatically.
Whenever you’re using https://www.google.com, be sure to find the “search settings and turn off private results. You might want to pause all of your internet activity in your Google account activity controls also. I’ve even heard of software that can change your device MAC address also. If you understand why that would be significant, your knowledge is beyond the scope of this post obviously.
Some folks use TOR networks or any encrypted anonymous network connection to hide their internet activity, but Google blocks most anonymous networks from using search and most of their services. I’m pretty sure anonymity networks are heading in the direction of becoming illegal from the way it’s going here in America, the land of the free.
At the rate at which internet technologies are evolving, this post will most likely be obsolete within a year tops. Anyone hoping to stay only a sequence of 1’s and 0’s is going to have to do much more than this very soon at the current rate of change in search technologies or, God forbid, stop using it all together.