When I am online, I usually have at least one Google service open. At home, I usually have a Google Mail window open at all times, as well as Google Calendar. At work, it is only the latter. What I didn’t know until today is that whenever you are logged into your Google account, Google is tracking your web usage through a system called Web History. Accessing the system allows you to â€˜pauseâ€™ the recording and even delete what is already there. While the listings disappear from your screen, there is good reason to doubt whether they vanish from Googleâ€™s records.
It is common knowledge that Google saves every search query that gets input into it, and does so in a way that can be linked to an individual computer. The web history service, however, has more troubling implications. Whether you are at work, at home, or at an internet cafe, you just need to be logged into any Google service for it to be operating. Since more than one computer can be logged into a Google account at once, and there is no indication on either machine that this is happening, anybody who gets your password can monitor your web usage, as well as your email and any other Google services you use. Given how common keyloggers have become, this should worry people.
One very helpful feature Google could implement would be the option to show when and where you last logged into your account. That way, if someone has been peeking at your email from London while you have been in Seattle, you know that it may be time to change your password. Also desirable, but much less likely to happen, would be a requirement that services like GMail store your information as an encrypted archive. Even if the encryption was based on your password and a relatively weak cipher, it would make it impractical for either Google or malicious agents with access to their information storage systems to undertake the wholesale mining of the information therein.
The final reason for which this is concerning has to do with cooperation between companies and governments. It is widely rumoured that companies including Microsoft and Yahoo have helped the Chinese government to track down and prosecute dissidents, by turning over electronic records held outside China. Given the increasingly bold snooping of both democratic and authoritarian governments, a few more layers of durable protection built into the system would be prudent and encouraging.