Google expands personalised search to non-account holders

08/12/2009

Google' has begun tracking the search behaviour of all its users to offer more refined results and targeted ads, expanding the service beyond those with a Google account. The move will see Google using a cookie placed on users' machines to track their search behavior and offer personalised recommendations, even when they are not logged into a Google account.

08/12/2009

The change was announced late Friday on Google's Official Blog, which read:

"Previously, we only offered Personalized Search for signed-in users, and only when they had Web History enabled on their Google Accounts. What we're doing today is expanding Personalized Search so that we can provide it to signed-out users as well. This addition enables us to customize search results for you based upon 180 days of search activity linked to an anonymous cookie in your browser," wrote Google's Bryan Horling, Software Engineer and Matthew Kulick, Product Manager.

"For example, since I always search for [recipes] and often click on results from epicurious.com, Google might rank epicurious.com higher on the results page the next time I look for recipes. Other times, when I'm looking for news about Cornell University's sports teams, I search for [big red]. Because I frequently click on www.cornellbigred.com, Google might show me this result first, instead of the Big Red soda company or others," the two wrote.

The new service is delivered as defualt, but users can opt-out at any time.

However, the move is still likely to raise privacy concerns, as recommendations sent to users not signed-in are shared by everyone who uses the PC, potentially revealing unintended information about one user to the others.

"The key point is that Google is now tracking users of search who have specifically chosen not to log in to a Google account," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, quoted in the New York Times. "They are obliterating one of the few remaining privacy safeguards for Google services."

Google offers a page that describes the differences between "signed-in" and "signed-out" personalized search, including a table showing the major distinctions between them.

Read the Google blog

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