Google is famous for keeping discreet tabs on how people browse the Internet in order to market ads back to them and point them toward the websites, videos and services they want.
Now, it’s possible for the average Web user to get a slice of some of that information.
Over the weekend, an unofficial Google blog highlighted a new feature that the Internet giant had quietly rolled out to let people download their entire Google search histories.
“Create an archive of your search history data,” the Web company promises.
In a few moments, it sends an email with downloadable cache of data about people’s past searches.
The archive won’t work for people who have altered their privacy settings, and only records searches that occurred while logged in to Google, such as through Gmail.
Still, the archive is a demonstration of how much information Google quietly retains about its users. The company is by no means unique in compiling scores of data about people’s browsing habits, but its size has made it a target for privacy advocates who fear companies having access to vast amounts of personal information.
In addition to Google, companies known as data brokers — which make a business out of compiling dossiers on consumers in order to sell use for advertising — have come under scrutiny from Capitol Hill and Washington regulators, who fear that people’s privacy is not being adequately protected.
That search history can also be useful to the government, in order to track down potential terrorists or criminals. Among other things, federal agents are able to subpoena lists of search histories from companies like Google during the course of an investigation.