Google announce Web History

Google have announced their new Web History service.

Today, we’re pleased to announce the launch of Web History, a new feature for Google Account users that makes it easy to view and search across the pages you’ve visited. If you remember seeing something online, you’ll be able to find it faster and from any computer with Web History. Web History lets you look back in time, revisit the sites you’ve browsed, and search over the full text of pages you’ve seen. It’s your slice of the web, at your fingertips.

The service allows you to look back over time, revisit the sites you’ve browsed, and search through the full text of pages you’ve seen. In order to work though it requires you to install Google Toolbar and have PageRank enabled.

I feel a bit divided on this service. I recognise that it can and will be useful to many people, but it does mean that we all as users have to accept that Google is tracking every site we visit (if we choose to enable this service). It does feel like an invasion of privacy – bit like the CCTV camera on every corner, you just accept it’s there – like Big Brother is watching … ok perhaps that’s a bit unfair :p

I guess to Google’s credit though Yahoo and MSN also track which sites we’ve visited and of the three only Google refused to hand over their user’s data to the US Government – whether that decision was based on moral/ethical grounds or purely based on an unwillingness to hand the data over without a fee is debatable – but nonetheless they have shown some kind of willingness to protect the privacy of their user’s data.

The reality though is that if you don’t want people tracking what you do online then the only solution is to disconnect yourself from the internet – in the past we’ve been happy(?) to accept that this was something our ISP’s did as the provisioner’s of our connection to the internet. Search engines have always tracked what we collectively are searching for, the tailoring of adverts is a reflection of the fact that they already use this information to provide directed contextual ads to us.

So why is this bothering me so much? It’s not as though it’s anything new. So why is it troubling me? I’m not sure if I can answer these questions right now. Do I trust Google? based on their history and track record to date the answer is probably – yes. They have always been forthcoming in admitting what they track and how they use that data.

I think trust is something that is very important to Google, as they move more and more into getting users and organisations to adopt their online services as opposed to desktop based services. Keeping users data safe, secure and private is the measuring stick by which many of us will judge them. Interestingly I think that’s the biggest problem facing any software as a service, it’s convincing users that they can trust you and your service with their data. Any failure will cause possibly irreparable damage to that relationship between you and your users.

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