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Does sharing a computer mean that I'm sharing my Google web history?

I share a computer with my roommate. Lets say she creates a Google account,
downloads the tool bar, etc. in order to save and view web history, but I do
not create an account. When she logs in to view and use the web history
feature, won’t she able to see what pages I visit since we share the same
computer?

There are a couple of different scenarios that could be at play here, since
there are at least two different histories that could be kept.

But regardless of which, sharing a computer with a roommate or with anyone
for that matter definitely puts you at risk for accidentally sharing more than
just the computer.

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If you’re signed into a Google account such as GMail or just about any
Google service and you remain logged into that account, then by default Google
will keep a history of where you’ve been on the web.

Visit http://www.google.com/history. Login with your Google account if
you need to, and you should see a history of sites you’ve visited:

Google Web History Example

If you see a long detailed history, then this feature is enabled for your
account and actively recording your browsing history while you’re logged in to
a Google account and surfing the web.

There are two quick approaches to avoiding this data collection:

  • Sign out:

    Sign Out option on a Google page

    In other words, make sure that once you’re done doing whatever required you
    to sign in to your Google account, you sign out when your done. Once you sign
    out Google no longer associates your browsing activity with your Google
    account.

  • Pause:

    Pause option for Google web history

    “If you’re signed into a Google account … then by
    default Google will keep a history of where you’ve been on the web.”

    Google allows you to simply turn off the history recording feature by
    hitting Pause. In fact I inadvertently did this some months
    ago, and sure enough, Google’s ignored my browsing history the entire time,
    until I turned it back on again while writing this article.

To learn more about Google’s web history, just sign in to http://www.google.com/history and hit the Web History
Help
link at the bottom of the page.

So all of that was really targeted at your roommate, because she is the one
that has the Google account.

The risk for both of you is simply this: that history is collected and
visible if it’s enabled (and it is by default), and your roommate remains
signed into their Google account. That means:

  • You could view your roommates browsing history.

  • Your roommate could be viewing yours.

It’s easy for you to protect yourself: visit any Google property that
requires a sign in, and if your roommate is already signed in, then sign
out.

It’s not quite so easy for your roommate. If she inadvertently remains
signed in when you are using the computer then there’s not much she can do to
prevent you from snooping around.

Now, even without Google’s involvement, there’s other history involved: your
browser’s history. I’ve covered this in several previous articles, but your web
browser is also keeping a history of where you’ve been. Type
CTRL+H when you’re in your browser and you’ll see the history
it has.

And it’s always on.

So if you are concerned about your privacy, you’ll want to make sure that
when you’re done using the shared computer you erase your history. See the
links below for instructions.

The bottom line is that when you share a computer you really want to trust
the person your sharing it with. If not, you need to take extra precautions to
make sure that your privacy remains secure.

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3 comments on “Does sharing a computer mean that I'm sharing my Google web history?”

  1. Some browsers have options to delete or even, (like Safari) not record this history in the first place.

    I believe if you set the browser to keep history for 0 days, it is deleted when you close the browser. With Safari you can enable a “private browsing” option. With Firefox, pressing CTRL + SHIFT + DELETE (or on the Tools menu, click Clear Private Data) allows you to delete this information as well. Doesn’t affect the Google history though.

    Reply
  2. Ok, still not entirely clear about this.

    Say, I haven’t signed into my google accout, but I review the google web history (on my own pc) is that my actual history of all sites / pages visited, or, some random list?

    Are they actually the pages I’ve looked at, or, what google has found during a search – how do I tell the difference?

    Reply

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