Late Friday evening, I tweeted out that, for some reason unbeknownst to me, Google’s Web History tracking “feature” (the one that keeps tabs on every search you’ve made for sake of tailoring ads to your tastes and/or creeping you out) had seemingly been enabled on my account. This wouldn’t be too strange in most cases — as an opt-out service, Web History is enabled for everyone by default. The problem? I’d manually disabled it years ago.
Following my tweet, a few people responded in tune; they were certain they’d disabled it long ago — but sure enough, there was all of their history going back anywhere from 6 months to a year and a half. An odd coincidence, I assumed… until I woke up this morning to an inbox full of people all saying the same thing.
In each case, the person is positive they’d disabled it months ago. In each case, it sprang back to life without any conscious effort on their part. Making things all the more strange is the lack of any clear cut pattern: for many, it seems to have been re-enabled around June of this year. For others, it was earlier in the year. For myself and a smaller handful of others, it was way back in 2010. Some are Android users, some aren’t. Some use Chrome, some don’t.
I brought it up in our internal backchannel, and sure enough: other TechCrunch employees had seen the same thing — long ago, in fact. Back in 2010, Jason Kincaid reached out to Google because his Web History had inexplicably popped back on. Google had no explanation, and chalked it up to user error.
I’m not accusing Google of anything nefarious here, just yet; if they wanted to keep tabs on everything everyone searches for in a way that associates it with user accounts, there are far sneakier ways to do it than quietly re-enabling a user facing option. My assumption is that there’s a Google product (or two) that re-enables Web History for one reason or another, and the alert mentioning that fact (if said alert exists) is just a bit too subtle for any of us to remember.
Whatever the cause (I’m looking into it): if you mean to have Google’s Web History disabled, pop on over to the History page and make sure that flip is still switched.