You may have seen in the news in the last few days that Google has launched a new tool called 'My Activity' and if you have a Google account you can take a look at it. Basically it's a history come timeline tool that gathers together all of your activity online that Google can see. This might be rather more than you think, especially if you use Chrome as your browser. I took a look at the information that it had gathered about me, and as well as the usual searches which I was expecting it had details on the games that I have played in Facebook, visits to Amazon, activity on different websites, the videos that I've watched on YouTube and so on. Essentially - everything I do online in my browser. Obviously if you don't use Chrome the amount of information retained will be rather less than that, and if you don't have a Google account at all, then you don't have access to the tool, but equally Google doesn't have quite so much access to you.
There are some great advantages to this. If I'm doing some research on a particular subject over a period of time for example, I can get Google to pull all of that together for me; all of the searches, the sites that I've visited, when, what device I used and so on. Never lose track of that information again. That is tremendously helpful, but of course, we need to remember that Google isn't doing this for our benefit, not even a little bit. The more that Google knows about us, the more it can create a profile of us, and the more it can tailor adverts to our specific needs and interests. Google is there to make money folks, not make your life easier.
There are therefore downsides to it as well. If Google is hit with a search warrant I have no doubt that they would happily hand this information over - though to be fair, they would do this anyway, it's just that information arranged like this makes it much easier to see and interrogate. Also, if you manage to allow someone else access to your account, or they hack into it, that's the first place they are going to visit, just to poke around and see what you have been doing.
What can you do about it? A fair amount - Google say that it's opt in, but when I looked at my activity log there was a lot there and I certainly didn't opt into the service. However, you can opt out, and you can delete material that you don't want anyone to see (but surely no-one is going to see it anyway are they?) and you can change your privacy settings in your account. If you prefer however, you can simply ditch Google - dump Gmail for another email package, use a different search engine such as DuckDuckGo, and use Firefox instead of Chrome as your browser.
Are you going to do any of these things though? Probably not - it's the usual catch with Google - you trade off your privacy and security against better, more effective searching and ease of use of the internet. It's going to be your call.
I was invited onto the Canadian CTV News channel last night for a live interview on the new tool, and I've got a screen capture of the video.