If you’re like everybody else who uses the Web, I imagine you use Google’s popular search engine to look up information about different topics. Well, just like about any other Web site out there, Google sets cookies on your browser for various reasons, such as remembering preferences.
With Google however, it keeps cookies that track user searches and stores them on its database for possible future needs. Some of these cookies are set to last for 30 to 35 years into the future. That is some time to keep search information, don’t you think? Although Google doesn’t keep actual user’s names and addresses, it does assign your system a unique ID that is complete with your IP address.
Now, I’m not trying to make Google out to be the bad guys. I actually think that they are a great company. In an industry where I have seen a lot of companies gauge their users for more and more to become successful, Google has always been there for the users, all the while keeping the rest of the industry on its toes. But, it still doesn’t mean I want my cookies stored in my browser or on their server for an umpteen amount of years.
So, the cookies might not bother you. You know and trust Google, so why worry? There are a couple reasons I choose to worry.
1.) It’s my job.
2.) AOL, MSN and Yahoo have already given up some information like this to the government upon request and this is the information Google was being suspended for at the beginning of this year.
3.) Even though Google’s motto is “Don’t Be Evil,” there is no telling what will happen in the future. The IT industry is volatile at best and business makes strange bedfellows. With Google offering more services, such as e-mail and blogs, they have much more information about users than they used to. This, to me, means that If Google changes their mission statement, they will have potentially tons of information on users.
4.) My final reason for the Google cookie paranoia is hackers and data leaks. This information can be invaluable to certain entities; so much so that not only hackers, but employees have been stealing information as well, so why leave it out there?
So, what do you do about this? Well, you can clean out your cookies regularly (which you should do anyway), but if you have a lot of Web settings you don’t want to change, there is another way.
I found this the other day and I thought it would come in handy as an online security utility. It’s called GoogleAnon and it helps you conduct Google searches anonymously. GoogleAnon sets your Google GUID to all zeros so you can perform search after search without leaving a trace as to whom you are.
GoogleAnon is a service that you save as a favorite in order to use. You can also drag it from your browser bookmarks to your personal links for quicker access. Once you have the GoogleAnon setup, open up an Internet browser and navigate to google.com. Now, access the GoogleAnon, which is in your favorites and you should see the following box come up, which shows your assigned Google ID.
Select OK and it will zero out your ID. Once this is done, you are taken back to the Google preference page to reset three to four different settings that are usually stored by Google cookies. Select OK again. Now you are ready to use Google without worrying about being observed for future endeavors, projects or experiments.
GoogleAnon should work on the following browsers: IE4+, Opera, AOL, Netscape, Mozilla and Firefox.
Click here to access GoogleAnon. Once there, scroll up a little and look for the little box that says GoogleAnon. You’re going to save it to your Favorites and then close and reopen your browser, so it will displayed in your Favorites list. Just follow all the instructions to get started.
Until next week, stay safe out there.
~ Chad Stelnicki