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July 03, 2005

The Google spy? 

Every now and then, according to links I found online, Google tracks its search results on some computers. Instead of giving you the link to the page when you see the first ten results, there’s a link that looks something like this:

It got a bit annoying for me when I was copying and pasting URLs, and I eventually deleted the Google cookie that was causing this. Afterwards, all was well.
   But Google is a company well known for being un-corporate; it hasn’t, apparently, the trappings of all the dot coms that sold their souls, like Yahoo!, which no longer responds to user queries if they don’t fit into a pre-determined “script”.
   However, I could not find anything on Google’s site about this. My first thought was that I was being spied on. Then, I thought: if I were being spied on, then what would Google make of my browsing patterns? For example, I quite often search for my own sites in Google because it is more natural typing the name into a Google Toolbar search box than a URL. Fewer keystrokes are sometimes involved. But would Google think I was trying to cheat it?
   I have, after all, noticed odd things happening: certain pages from one of my sites disappearing after mere days; as though we were being penalized for something. (After all, Yahoo! Groups had deleted one of my groups unilaterally—rather, they left the shell of the group, but got rid of years of messages.) After I enquired at Google, I know at least one page I had queried reappeared.
   Either this is a mere oversight at Google—from everything I have read about the company, it remains a nifty place to work with an open culture (like an old dot com should be)—or it is the beginning of the end, hiding procedures behind secrecy.
   I really don’t mind if Google were spying on me, because I don’t do anything wrong, I don’t (knowingly) visit questionable sites, and I already let Alexa spy on me so it can gather its Related Links data. I trusted Google’s brand enough to let it spy, which is why I have PageRank on my Google Toolbar turned on.
   However, I wish I could find something on its site to tell me, given that modern consumers demand transparency. I wish I didn’t have to search other sites to learn about it.
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