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The Internet

Google Tracking Frequent Users 336

BrianGa writes "According to this article, Google has started placing a counter on its home page for a small number of its most frequent users. Most Google users do not have it, but a select few now have a counter that notes the actual number of searches made. For the curious, an explanatory page linked to the counter reveals that this is a test, or limited-sample experiment of a new search counting feature."
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Google Tracking Frequent Users

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  • by datan ( 659165 ) on Monday October 06, 2003 @04:57AM (#7142234) Homepage
    isn't this the google.com which logs every single IP + search since it first started?
    • by in7ane ( 678796 ) on Monday October 06, 2003 @05:02AM (#7142245)
      Yes - kind-of, I guess it's more cookie + ip based. And "Google Tracking Frequent Users" is a bit inaccurate as a title - google tracks all users (how else would they know when you have become a frequent user?) they are just displaying some of the information they gather to the frequent users (they can just as easily display it for all users since it's there anyway).

      Which begs the question - how is this news except that google is finally visibly using some of the information they gather to display it to the users?
      • It might be interesting to see if in the future Google offers a history function (your previous searches were a, b and c...). It could be fun (or incriminating!) to see what you've searched for in the past.

        In other news, I am among the 99% of users who don't have a Google counter :(
      • Expression nazi - (Score:3, Informative)

        by pr0ntab ( 632466 )
        It doesn't beg the question "how is this news except..."

        What you mean to say is, "The real question is how is this news except..."

        It begs the question: Is everyone afraid that google will know too much about you by what you search?

        The article doesn't presuppose anything, but to someone who is slightly paranoid, they might have been suddenly reminded that google tracks them once that counter appeared, hence the explanatory piece.

        Of course, google always tracks everything. That information is used to impr
  • by acegik ( 698112 ) on Monday October 06, 2003 @05:06AM (#7142258) Homepage
    Did you know that if you install its toolbar and use the advanced features of it (u do by default), it tracks EVERY URL you visit and send it to google servers? Its anonymous so I dont see the harm of it. Google is trying to be better and as long as it doesnt use it powers for doing wrong - I find their technology enlightening.
  • by deadgoon42 ( 309575 ) * on Monday October 06, 2003 @05:06AM (#7142263) Journal
    Is this the next Ultimate Status Symbol for nerds??
  • by WebfishUK ( 249858 ) on Monday October 06, 2003 @05:06AM (#7142265)
    So soon I'll have a good idea how often I use Google. Then I realise it is very valuable. Then I'm more nclinced to start to pay for it....

    I'm scared.

    • So soon I'll have a good idea how often I use Google. Then I realise it is very valuable. Then I'm more nclinced to start to pay for it....

      A service like Google! 10-15 years ago would cost thousands of dollars a year if not a month. Now, that's progress.

    • I was thinking exactly the same thing. It's hard to believe that the same thing didn't cross the minds of those folks at Google.

      So what do we do? Maybe it's time for a week-long boycott just to show them we *can* get by without them - plus an email campaign to drive the point home.
    • Then I'm more nclinced to start to pay for it....

      I think Google is worth $5/mo, especially if they let me make unlimited queries with their web services (1000/day doesn't cut it for automated data mining).
  • by PS-SCUD ( 601089 ) <peternormanscott.yahoo@com> on Monday October 06, 2003 @05:07AM (#7142268) Journal
    Um, like everyone?
  • by dnaboy ( 569188 ) on Monday October 06, 2003 @05:07AM (#7142271)
    'You have searched images.google.com fro Heidi+Klum 4,637 times.'... Hope she's not looking down.
  • track (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gfody ( 514448 ) * on Monday October 06, 2003 @05:08AM (#7142273)
    google "tracks" the whole dagum internet and your worried about them "tracking" you?

    I put track in quotes because associating totals and whatever data with ip addresses isn't exactly a spycam in your bedroom.
  • Counter capture? (Score:2, Interesting)

    Does frequent include searches using sourceid=mozilla-search?

    Anyway, someone please capture/mirror the counter for us to check it out, before we ./ google to get our own (or rather, spend our bandwidth trying).

  • by srboneidle ( 648298 ) on Monday October 06, 2003 @05:08AM (#7142276)
    So if you delete your cookies, or use a browser such as Opera which automatically gets rid of them after each session it can't really keep track of you.

    Unless they actually *do* log you IP every time you search...
    • googlewatch [google-watch.org] has a decent demonstration of how it works, with a proxy up for those who don't feel like sharing. WHich, i'll admit, endears them to me....

      ...Except that these are the same people behind NameBase [namebase.org]. At any rate, it's interesting.

    • Thank god I use Moz Firebird, and I when google asks if it can keep a cookie, I just say "no."

      They really should track it at the server if they want to spook us!
    • by bahamat ( 187909 ) on Monday October 06, 2003 @10:09AM (#7143884) Homepage
      Aparently you've never run a web server.

      Every type of web server I have ever seen logs the IP address and URL of every request. Most of them even log the referrer address, browser version, and operating system. If you have cookies enabled, chances are 90% of websites you visit track you through those. In particular, /. tracks the hell out of you if you're logged in.

      Many of them log javascript, java, flash, PDF and other plugins. They also track how you got there, referral, bookmark or search engine, and what search terms you used that led you there.
    • Unless they actually *do* log you IP every time you search...

      Actually, IP's aren't a particularly good method of tracking usage either, since proxy servers and gatways often funnel traffic from multiple computers through one IP address. I'd imaging that they'd actually get better statistics from cookies.

      When analyzing the data, they could just ignore anything from browsers like Opera. At this point, it doesn't sound like they are actually trying to track people, they are just trying to figure out som

  • Maybe (Score:5, Informative)

    by Timesprout ( 579035 ) on Monday October 06, 2003 @05:09AM (#7142277)
    The counter is placed on computer hard drives by a cookie, a software file that a Web site places without the recipient's permission or notification and that transmits information back to the site. "If the number contains more than three digits,'' the counter notes, "you truly are a Google frequent searcher.''

    Maybe the article author should Google for browser security/privacy settings to find out how cookies are handled.
    • I agree - even the oh so lousy web-browserfrom the softwarefirm we all love to hate has the option to either accept cookies, ask the luser for each cookie or reject all cookies.

      If you do believe that cookies are a bad thing(tm), then you should turn them off - and you might be better off burning your PC and move far, far awy from anyone who can even look at you as well. However, with a little bit of common sence, some insight in how the real world works (trust me - very few people are so interesting that

      • Re:Maybe (Score:2, Interesting)

        by jonadab ( 583620 )
        > If you do believe that cookies are a bad thing(tm), then you
        > should turn them off - and you might be better off burning your PC
        > and move far, far awy from anyone who can even look at you as well.

        Practically speaking, too many things break if you turn cookies off,
        and asking the user about each one turns the web into a dialog box
        festival. But you can limit the max cookie lifetime without
        degrading your internet experience at all. Most browsers support
        that option these days.
    • What is so inaccurate about this statement? It is placed on your computer without your explicit authorization and it does transmit the information back, although passively.

      In fact it is not all that different from the much-maligned passive RFID tags.

      • Re:Maybe (Score:2, Informative)

        by jonadab ( 583620 )
        > It is placed on your computer without your explicit authorization

        With most default browser settings, yes. The rest of the statement
        is utter hooey.

        > it does transmit the information back

        No, it _is_ the information that your _browser_ transmits back, and
        calling it a "software file", in addition to being technically
        incorrect because it's not stored as a distinct file, conjures up
        images of an active application, which together with the language
        "transmits back" makes it pretty clear that the author t
  • by benjamindees ( 441808 ) on Monday October 06, 2003 @05:15AM (#7142298) Homepage
    I wonder if any of the search engines have actually begun to use search patterns as an insight into consumer demands and profit off of such foresight.

    It wouldn't be hard at all for a search engine to identify particularly insightful individuals, ones who consistently search for things in advance of their general availability or in advance of the masses, and use them as a barometer of future consumer demand.

    That person could, of course, never know that they were being monitored in such a way. Imagine the possibilities of subverting such a system: make frequent searches for whatever you want and *poof* it appears a few months later.
    • I wonder if any of the search engines have actually begun to use search patterns as an insight into consumer demands and profit off of such foresight.
      My guess (purely uneducated and fully opinionated) is that they haven't. Those who say that there is money to be made in analyzing data from grocery store "loyalty" cards, and sell the analysis services, are the only ones profiting from such data.
    • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Monday October 06, 2003 @05:39AM (#7142355)
      I certainly hope they do something like that. I'm an insightful sort of fellow who searches for all sorts of things it turns out aren't available yet.

      I'm looking forward to their taking the hint so I can read Terry Prachett in Latin by the light of my reissue of my favorite Alladin Oil Lamp while sitting in my Rubbermaid(tm) Yurt.

      Oh, I think maybe you meant trendy people.

      That would be different.

      KFG
    • Imagine the possibilities of subverting such a system: make frequent searches for whatever you want and *poof* it appears a few months later.

      Do you mean that I can finally have some real sex [google.com]?

    • I bet you're right... I'm going to Google right now to start searching repeatedly on:

      "Nuts 'n Gum - Together at last!"

  • by Phoenix-kun ( 458418 ) * on Monday October 06, 2003 @05:16AM (#7142301) Homepage
    This counter is really nothing new. Google states in their privacy policy [google.com] that they already use cookies to track your usage. And if you use their toolbar (an extremely useful tool), you sent them info on every single website you visit, not just the intentional searches. But Goggle has given clear warning up front of what info would be shared and gives you the ability to disable it and still use the toolbar if you want. Privacy is, and should be, a concern here. But Google appears to be handling it responsibly so far.
    • And if you use their toolbar (an extremely useful tool), you sent them info on every single website you visit, not just the intentional searches.

      This is exacly why you should use Mozilla Phoenix/FireBird as your browser (kicks Opera and IE's ass for sure), and install the google toolbar extension from the extensions page. You'd get the best of both worlds this way, get the google toolbar, send them nothing :)
      • You don't quite seem to understand. The only time the Google toolbar in MSIE reports URLs back to Google is when you have enabled the PageRank indicator, which is not available for Firebird. You can be a Firebird zealot all you want, but stop spreading FUD about other browsers. Please.
  • by maan ( 21073 ) * on Monday October 06, 2003 @05:19AM (#7142311)
    I've been told, though I haven't encountered it myself, that they've been counting searches made by individuals for a long time, and that they've even banned some people/IP addresses from doing more than X searches per day.

    This happened before the web services API when people would write robots to do specific searches. Obviously, if the robot starts making a search every 5 seconds, that'd be a problem...

    Maan
  • Can someone tell me what this [tunah.net] says? I got it today in place of the Google (New Zealand) logo.
    • by mute47 ( 686568 )
      It says Chinese (Traditional) in traditional chinese.
    • Not sure what it says, but it's the Taiwan Google's logo.

      The position of the characters is usually where the country name is. Also, the mainland China Google logo is the same as the Taiwanese except for the characters in parenthesees.

      So, I'm betting that it says "China (Republic)", "China (Taiwan)", "China (Taipei)", or something like that, while the mainland Chinese one says "China (People's Republic)", "China (Mainland)", or the like.
    • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
      It says that if you are running Windows then you should probabably check your hosts file for an entry that redirects Google to another IP. If said file does contain such an entry then it *also* says you need to patch [microsoft.com] your system because you've been trojaned [imilly.com].
  • what's new? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by polaar ( 564379 ) on Monday October 06, 2003 @05:22AM (#7142321)
    They already use cookies containing a user id. So why the sudden privacy concerns in the article?
    They could already log your searches if they wanted to. The only difference now is a counter is shown to the user.
  • "'It's one of our experiments,' Marissa Mayer, Google's director for consumer products, said. 'We're playing with it to understand what the effects of it would be.'"

    So in other words:

    1. Add unique user counters
    2. ???
    3. Profit!

    I can see the the marketing section of Google jumping all over this. If they managed to uniquely identify users, they could very well "offer" the most frequent users a subscription based Google, in the terms of "you've been leeching off our free service for so long, how about

  • She said the company had deliberately not publicized the counter experiment to keep from skewing how the surfing public would use it.

    ... and I wonder how much usage they've seen spiking the system since the article was published?
  • Journalism? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oobar ( 600154 ) on Monday October 06, 2003 @05:59AM (#7142404)
    I don't know about you but this article had a hint of sensationalist feel to it, like those TV blurbs: "Breaking News! Your every move tracked! (Tune in at 11 for details)"

    The fact is cookies are a very widely used thing, and to paint the picture of google somehow being underhand for "secretly installing this counter on millions of hard drives" is a bit of a stretch. For one thing, it's optional: you can configure most browsers to disallow or block cookies. And it's hardly unique to google, I bet you couldn't find a major media/news web site out there that doesn't use cookies in some form or another. You probably have hundreds of them in your cookie jar, unless you've diabled them in your browser.

    And then to equate this to spying? That would be like saying, "Company Foo installed a closed-circuit camera in their lobby! OMG! They can tell everywhere you've been inside their building!" The whole cookie exchange is based on the browser voluntarily accepting it when contacting a server, there's really nothing underhanded about it. And the rules of how cookies work were devised specifically in such a way so that "domain.com" only has access to cookies set for "domain.com" and its subdomains. So the only thing they're tracking is your use of their server, which they already have the logs for anyway.

    What's next, some reporter stumbles onto the 'Referer' and 'User-Agent' fields in the HTTP headers, and writes some garbage piece about how "Internet sites secretly know where you came from when you load their page! ANd they know what operating system and browser you use! It's a giant conspiracy, your privacy is at stake!"
  • by Trurl's Machine ( 651488 ) on Monday October 06, 2003 @06:15AM (#7142440) Journal
    WASHINGTON, DC. The presidential candidate announced his resignation from the election run when tabloid press published leaked examples of google searches performed from his own laptop computer. The candidate was seeking among others for "sucks horse cock", "fetish personal ads" and "hentai sailor pictures". The spokesperson of google.com claimed no knowledge on how this information leaked from his company, but announced a thorough investigation. The candidate declined from any comments, but his political carreer seems to be over for good.
  • Seeing as a gazillion IP/search pairs would be too much for even google's mighty RAM, it figures they're using cookies. If so shouldn't it be possible to open up the cookie file and hand edit it?
    • If so shouldn't it be possible to open up the cookie file and hand edit it?

      You could also use someone else's Google cookie. For example, I wrote a PHP script called NukePost [shat.net] which deletes batches of Usenet posts from groups.google.com at once, automatically. Google's server expects - requires, actually - a cookie in order to complete the process.

      I embedded one of my ancient cookies into the script, which is sent to Google every time someone runs it without modifying the cookie data. I've had numerous peopl

  • by OMG ( 669971 )
    I do limit the lifetime of all cookies to 1-2 days (depending on my mood when setting up the system) in Mozilla.

    I hope that makes tracing me and building a profile harder. But still I don't have to log in more than once a day into /. or other things ;-)

    Thus Google will have a hard time to regonize me as a frequent user.
  • by eXtro ( 258933 ) on Monday October 06, 2003 @07:05AM (#7142605) Homepage
    that NY times implies that the sky is falling by defining cookies as
    a software file that a Web site places without the recipient's permission or notification and that transmits information back to the site.

    and then sets several cookies on my computer. I don't actually care, but it shows how little technical proficiency the fact checkers have. Before making a statement like that I'd make sure that my own web site didn't also set cookies.
  • by ahodgkinson ( 662233 ) on Monday October 06, 2003 @08:39AM (#7143097) Homepage Journal
    With all the froth and lather about how great Google is as the utimate search machine, we seem to forgotten that we are slowly entering our life histories into the Internet and more recently directly into Google's databases. More amazingly we're doing it for free and in some cases we're even paying for the priviledge. No one seems to be giving any thought to who or what controls the resulting data. If you subscribe to Bill Joy's views about privacy (Why the Future Doesn't Need Us [wired.com]) then you're fine and the rest of this article won't concern you.

    If however, you are like most people, and you do draw a line between public and private information about yourself, then Google's innovative strategies combined with its overwhelming market share make it a privacy time bomb [google-watch.org] just waiting to explode. If Microsoft were behind Google, much of the world would be up in arms (Remember NT's supposed NSA Backdoor [bbc.co.uk]?) No so with Google. Strangely, perhaps because Google actually works pretty well and isn't laced with bugs that allow viruses to damage your home computer, no one makes a fuss.

    In the recent years the public has sometimes been shocked to learn about some of the side effects that our technological progress has brought. Organizations combining data from multiple databases (for 'marketing' purposes) and technologies such as license plate recognition make possible a 'technical utopia' that Big Brother could only have dreamed about.

    This combined with the hightened fear of terrorism and the corresponding (over-)reaction by governments has led to a information gathering infrastructure that is unique in world history. In the post 9/11 world there has been increasing pressure from the American government on organizations and companies (from your local library [counterpunch.org] to European airlines [statewatch.org]) to forward all types to information to 'the authorities'. Google is most likely just one more intelligence source, though in all probablilty a highly valuable one, in the war against terrorism.

    Suspicions that Google has 'ties' with the NSA was published in Slashdot (Should You Fear Google? [slashdot.org]) last Febuary. After reading some of the comments associated with that article, one begins to wonder if Goggle is just the Internet arm of the Echelon [echelonwatch.org] project.

    While each tenticle pulling at our privacy is relatively harmless by itself, the combined affect of the multiple attacks on our personal privacy is large and disturbing. Worse still, is that we have only ourselves blame. Our very own democratic governments encourage and protect the individuals and organizations that are attempting to implement these policies. And largely because of own our ignorance and apathy, we don't raise our voices against it.

    It's like comparing the public's reaction to a government proposal to mandate the installation of ID chips in its citizens, which causes a massive outcry, vs. parents desire to install the same chips in their children [wired.com], because of their fear of abductions. The end result may be the same, but in the second case we did it to ourselves.

    I guess the moral is that we should just be a bit more aware of what we're doing, and a bit more willing to say 'no'. While the current western decomcratic governments probably do 'have our best interests at heart', what happens when some unsavory character sells or gives this information to our enemies, or worse our government is no longer domocratic and becomes our enemy?

  • by Alsee ( 515537 ) on Monday October 06, 2003 @11:52AM (#7144745) Homepage
    The counter is cookie based. Cookies are simple text files on the users's machines. You can simply open these cookies in notepad and fill in any number you like :)

    -

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