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Personalized Search Now Default
SEO and Privacy forever changed

 12:16 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Google Blog [googleblog.blogspot.com]
Today we're helping people get better search results by extending Personalized Search to signed-out users worldwide

That's a staggering statement meaning that every computer accessing Google is now being personalized, signed in or not, so any desktop, laptop or kiosk will start tracking everything everyone does and you won't be able to access the same search results from any two machines.

The possible impact to all is staggering.



 12:37 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Here's something from the article that can be important for SEOs:

Check out our help center for more details on personalized search [google.com], how we customize results [google.com] and how you can turn off personalization [google.com].

...and from that last link:

If you aren't signed in to a Google Account, your search experience will be customized based on past search information linked to a cookie on your browser. To disable history-based customizations, follow these steps:
  1. In the top right corner of the search results page, click Web History.
  2. On the resulting page, click Disable customizations.(Because this preference is stored in a cookie, it'll affect anyone else who uses the same browser and computer as you).

Even so - you know the average user will not be doing any of that - and neither will the average client, until you explain it to them eleventy-eleven times.

This just feels so very wrong-headed that the mind boggles! As I often explain to IT staff, NOT EVERYTHING THAT CAN BE PROGRAMMED SHOULD BE PROGRAMMED.


 1:09 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

note if you are running any browser and have it tweaked to use the google search beta ( with column on the left ) then you will not see the "web history" link at top right and will need to manually go into your cookie store and remove the all google cookies ..

if you later sign in to any google service you will need to mark all cookies "save this session only" ( or remove them after using google services and prior to continuing your session )..or to manually delete them for instance when you have read your gmails or whatever ..otherwise you will be signed in and "personalised AKA tracked" by default until you remove the cookies even if you reboot ..

you will need to sanitize each browser ..and remember to keep them thus ..always

thanks incrediBill for spotting this ..

welcome to the GORG

interestingly ..for those who like to surf pron ..in order to get unfiltered results ..or to enable safe results ( the default "cookieless" search ..is "moderately safe" ) ..like for your kids ..you will have to accept a google preferences cookie ..so your kids will be tracked ..as will you ..wether or not you surf pron ..unless you want them to see what Goog considers moderately safe

Evil ? ..you betcha!


 1:31 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Does this pretty much make checking your place in the serps meaningless?

Off to your log file refers see what page the visitor found your site on?


 1:56 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Do enough people even understand this on the most basic level, to bring it to the attention of privacy advocates in the legislatures worldwide? I mean after all, Microsoft has gotten slapped down in the European market for their sins. Is the concept of "opt in" now gone forever (if I understand this correctly, tracking is default; opt-out is the option). Is there any hope of a reversal on that sort of privacy rights basis? And let's remember, if Google can do it then a precedent is set, so everyone else can do the same (presumably, including MS). Huge can of worms...



 1:59 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

In my experience it's not easy to keep Google search history turned off. I've turned it off several tines in the past and then later discovered that it had somehow been turned back on without my knowledge.


 2:16 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

"Today we're helping people"

Which people might that be? The ones who don't want the best results for a query?

Google swallows the personalized search boondoggle whole, and ruins their search results at the same time.

One more instance of Google deluding themselves into thinking they do something pretty good when in fact they utterly suck at it.


 3:24 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Even so - you know the average user will not be doing any of that - and neither will the average client, until you explain it to them eleventy-eleven times. This just feels so very wrong-headed that the mind boggles!

It doesn't "Boggle" at all. Wake up, people.

The time to protest, complain, rant and rave is NOW.
2 years ago, in fact.
Do something! say something!


welcome to the GORG


to what Goog's about.

[edited by: tedster at 2:07 am (utc) on Dec. 6, 2009]


 4:37 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Does this pretty much make checking your place in the serps meaningless?

I wouldn't exactly say it's meaningless. If a user has not established a pattern of preference in a given search area, then they can't really be served personalized SERPs.

But it certainly does change the game. It becomes even more important to get users to click early in the purchase cycle, when they're just gathering information and building their history in the market niche. Any business model that is based only on point-of-sale pages should expand it now or begin to atrophy.

There's something about always getting personalized search results that is socially troubling, too. I can see it creating a kind of ostrich phenomenon, where the average user is less and less exposed to anything new. I noticed this happening in my own online news consumption several years ago, and took intentional steps to make sure I got out of my own preferential areas.


How about a highly visible toggle right on the search page that says

Personalized Results: ON - OFF

Then EVERY user would begin to get the message that Google is collecting and storing their data. Would Google consider that level of transparency too much for their taste? Do they want every user to know what's happening with their data?


 4:52 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

From the Google page about how to turn off personalized search:

Note: If you've disabled search customizations, you'll need to disable it again after clearing your browser cookies; clearing your Google cookie turns on history-based customizations.

..in other words, they will keep sending a new cookie and keep spying on you over and over again.

Here's my answer to how to turn off Google Personalized Search: DON'T USE GOOGLE.


 4:53 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Sounds like an attempt at a product improvement. SEOs may or may not like it, but the real question is whether Joe Searcher likes it. If Joe does, Google will remain one big step ahead of its competitors. If Personalized Search turns out to be Google's answer to Windows Vista, Google will need to bring back Google XP or leapfrog to Google 7.

Bottom line: The market will decide. (For what it's worth, I find it difficult to believe that Google chose to add such a major product feature without conducting usability research and/or market research beforehand.)


 5:06 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Bottom line: The market will decide.

3-4 years ago, many of us complained that personalization and cookie data usage would NEVER BE OPT-OUT and ONLY OPT-IN.

Google SWORE over and over again they would "NEVER DO THIS"

Remember this?!

For those with notoriously bad memories, it was around the same time that privacy groups were complaining about Goog's 100 year cookies.
(of course one doesn't, do they?)

Cut to 3 years later, and the "mind boggling" revelation that "oops we've changed our minds"

And of course, the "mindless masses won't remember what we said only 3 years ago".

Google LIED once again, and we're talking about if "Goog would consider..."?!
We are DONE "negotiating" with Google.
They don't give a flying hoot what's right or true or NOT EVIL.

My goodness!
Every webmaster should be removing any Google search boxes, monetization, etc from their sites immediately
posting their complete disgust on their various blogs/forums that Google PROMISED they wouldn't be doing this, not 3 years ago.

And OF COURSE Google DNS "won't be used for data collection" either... Riiiight...

We're the effin market, man!

[edited by: tedster at 2:08 am (utc) on Dec. 6, 2009]


 5:15 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

So Google wants to give us more of what they think we want based upon past search behavior.

Google really has a herd mentality. I think a lot of this stems from it's founders who can be described as nerds I guess, who have an idea that popularity or acceptance means good.

Doing it with maps and restaurants is probably safe, but what about ideas? We know Google will not be satisfied with restaurant listings in the long run.

The opposite can also be true. Learning and change often requires we find information that is discrepant and new and views which may not be popular at all. Filtering out the already slim chance of finding these things during a search is not as good an idea as it may seem.

The natural course for a company like Google is to become more conservative and give people what they are already comfortable with. This soothes, makes money and appears to make people happy, or just lets them be lazy. Then comes along a newbie who has the eye of the tiger who eventually gets a following big enough to contend and takes over.

The process then starts all over again. Don't know exactly where Google stands in this timeline, but things are progressing.

[edited by: MrHard at 5:29 am (utc) on Dec. 5, 2009]


 5:25 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

So, let's see... if your history indicates that you've clicked on something a lot in the past, when you search (assumedly for something new), your personalized results will keep pointing you back in the direction of something you already knew about. Hmmm... isn't "search" supposed to be discovering new stuff... not stuff you already knew about? Just because you like something doesn't mean you always want it.


 5:54 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Hmmm... isn't "search" supposed to be discovering new stuff... not stuff you already knew about? Just because you like something doesn't mean you always want it.

Advertising dictates your having to view the same rubbish over and over again.

Google has seemingly become more of an ads agency over the years than anything else, IMO.

As an added note ..

I see this as an attempt on Google's part to eventually being able to nearly guarantee ROI to their advertisers.

[edited by: mcneely at 5:59 am (utc) on Dec. 5, 2009]


 5:54 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

The average Joe User will perceive this as a positive change, I believe. His/her trusted and often visited sites will appear more often in the top spots of "the" SERPS.

But it will not be long before Google gets it's wings cut because of the excessive data collecting on identifiable individual users.


 5:55 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

(Typing this while the FTP client uploads un-googled pages.)

Interesting move. Over the past couple of weeks we have seen a number of announcements that are heavily related to privacy or uncommon business practices, and only now the webmaster community wakes up: Sidewiki, Chrome OS, banning of Adwords accounts, the Google news discussion, Google DNS, and now this.

It's almost as if the Gorg WANTS US to wake up. It's as if it is screaming: "See the signs! See the signs!"

But what are the implications of this?

Before we can answer this, I think we should first define what a cookie-less user is and how he can be identified accurately?

I, for one, delete all Cookies after a browser session. I do not use the Google toolbar, and I rarely use Google search these days. And I access the web through a dynamic IP assigned from my ISP. What does Google "see" from me?

- a dynamic IP address that can not be tracked back to ME, but probably to my marketing profile (location, ISP)
- a Cookie that only remembers the last session (but they could build a temporary history for the time I use the same IP address)
- a certain profile that can be built from pages that I visit that have Google property on it (visits sites A, B, C, and D during a session)

Not too much to build "a history", I think. I'd say that I will see rather "clean" search results every morning. Unless, of course, they show regionalized results based on people's history with a similar marketing profile (location, ISP, sites that I visit). So, if my neighbors with the same ISP search for pr*n all day, the Gorg might conclude that I am living in a redlight district and shows ads for pr*n to me as well.

Question here is - how many people WILL disable/delete cookies on their computers? Consumers - not too many, because they don't know what the implications are. So they need to be told of the Gorg.

We're a webmasters. We serve the masses and the Gorg with relevant content every day. Now let's spread the word about Google and their practices. On our sites. On our blogs. In real life. And remove the Gorg from our lives.

(Still uploading un-googled pages via FTP. Big site.)


 6:08 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

I would say that given the fact they released this on a Friday afternoon, they know it's not going to be popular with the search community and probably the public in general. However, they also know it will be very good for Google otherwise they wouldn't be doing it and risking it totally backfire.

If they really were doing this for the better good, they'd have announced it on a Tuesday or Wednesday and not buried it with the trash.


 6:13 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

A lot of us have made the switch to bing this month. Seems the timing might have been good in that respect.

Google will only learn when their search traffic drops--a lot.

Once upon a time there was a big search engine named Alta Vista. It was #1...today, not so much. Not smart, Google. Trust is hard to earn once violated. This seems intrusive to me.


 6:19 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Google sometimes seems like a once cute baby who grew to be seven feet tall by the time he went to kindergarten. Naturally he hurts the other kids -- he can't adapt to his growth spurt. Twenty thousand geeks are running amok with all their cool ideas, and their attention for their effect on anyone else is not deep enough.

Or... maybe the Google geeks are being herded by someone who does have some really dark motives. In the final result it doesn't even matter whether Google is moving us toward a dark future intentionally or just accidentally. The end result is the same.

...everyone else can do the same (presumably, including MS). Huge can of worms...

Right -- Google is not the only data collector to watch out for by a long shot. Do you know what your ISP is doing? Many are selling your keystrokes to anyone with a fat enough wallet. And once you give your data to any third party, our current legal system is not well prepared to handle it. It's a major struggle of this time, and people are mostly sound asleep on the most important issues.

Information technology itself is a Pandora's box, and when any organization gets beyond a certain size these issues are bound to come up. Remember Carnivore [webmasterworld.com]? Remember AT&T's immense data mining projects [usatoday.com] and government collaborations?

Google may even see themselves as the most benign of all the data giants; they certainly don't roll over to government pressures as easily as some do. But Google's self-image is not the issue here, it's their actions - and their shadow.


 6:33 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

whether Google is moving us toward a dark future intentionally or just accidentally. The end result is the same.

Yes, agreed!

Information technology itself is a Pandora's box, and when any organization gets beyond a certain size these issues are bound to come up. Remember Carnivore? Remember AT&T's immense data mining projects and government collaborations?

Some of us work tirelessly to prevent this in any form.
Starting with credit reporting agencies, to more nefarious "underground" organizations,
but no one has pulled the wool over people eyes (at least publicly) as easily as Gorg , it seems.

it's their actions - and their shadow.



 6:48 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

By the way, could someone please write a Firefox plugin that alerts me when a site is using Google products (Adsense, Analytics, Maps, Search, whatever)? Or -should that plugin already exist- point me to it?


 7:15 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

could someone please write a Firefox plugin that alerts me when a site is using Google products

It's easy enough to spot their cookies...

In FF, click on:

Tools > Options > Security

In the Cookies section you can click Exceptions and enter google.com and click Block.

Or you could set the Cookie options to:

[x] Accept cookies from sites
[_] Accept third-party cookies
Keep until: [ask me every time]

This will show you every cookies Google is trying to place, (note: you can't use Adsense or Adwords and possibly other Google services without allowing their cookies).

For extra fun, check off:
[x] Accept third-party cookies

...and watch the cookie alerts fly.

(remove all cookies before each cycle of testing to see just how many Google cookies you get and why).


 7:17 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Google's persistent cookies should raise privacy concerns for everyone, even the most non-geeky ones would understand the potential risks. If there was a "GoogCookie Search & Destroy" app riding on a social awareness campaign for everyone to run it when one's pc reboots, that should spell end of G's hegemony of sorts. Isn't this a plausible way to push this elephant out of our living rooms?


 7:32 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Another interesting factor is that every search engine collects this data. Google has had cookie based user history for quite a while - and now they are using it to customize search results. So a lot of my earlier ranting is not just about Google, or this new feature of pushing most people into personalized results. It's about something larger than that.

What does this new feature really mean for sites that do organic search marketing? Is it really going to make that much difference?

We already deal with all kinds of customized search results - by location (even within the same city), by browser, by cookie to choose candidates for experiments. We already deal with Universal or blended results - that really changed things!

Yes, universal results were a big game changer, and they also opened up new avenues for free marketing within the organic results. Are there marketing opportunities in personalized results for the logged-out? Is there a lemonade recipe for this new lemon?


 7:34 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

It's easy enough to spot their cookies...

Not trying to drag this thread OT, but I know how to disable their cookies. I am rather looking for a convenient FF plugin that alerts me when a site uses Google property (e.g. Analytics, Maps, Adsense, etc.). Like a window popping up: "Warning - This site uses Google products!" So that I can avoid them altogether.

Also, I don't think it's done with blocking google.com. One should also block googlesyndicate.com, blogger.com, feedburner.com, youtube.com, and so on and so on.


 8:45 am on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

>It's easy enough to spot their cookies

maybe for someone that is PC savvy but the average joe will be clueless about this ............more reason to send people to a better SE with better results like Bing


 12:20 pm on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Incidentally I don't see "web history" when signed out as they say in the video. Additionally I haven't touched web history in my account since I turned it off three months ago. It's apparently still turned off.


 12:42 pm on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Has anybody seen any results from the 'interest based ads' yet? Sorry, but I fail to see the huge benefit to searchers and Google alike, given that Google has so far not been able to accurately gauge a person' interest.

[edited by: johnnie at 1:02 pm (utc) on Dec. 5, 2009]


 12:53 pm on Dec 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

The flip side of this is...

If Google is personalizing search results for each individual based on click preference, then it is logical that the base/generic search results likewise will be adjusted based on the entire world's click habits.

After all, if you have data from 100 people, where 95 click result #2 for a query, and 4 click result #1, and 1 clicks result #3... and you thusly personalize the results for those 95 people to favor the site at #2, how could you not use that data in ranking the generic results to favor the site currently at #2? How could it be a good idea to use data on one hand but not use it on the other hand?

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